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Thomas Jefferson descendant brings slavery at Monticello exhibit to Jackson Ward museum

Posted at 1:50 PM, Jan 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-30 14:08:16-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia in historic Jackson Ward is hosting a special exhibition called, “Paradox of Liberty: Slavery at Jefferson's Monticello."

The exhibit highlights the 607 enslaved men, women, and children Thomas Jefferson owned during his lifetime.

Gayle Jessup White, a direct descendant of Jefferson, helped bring the exhibition to the museum as the Monticello Community Engagement Officer. The Richmond woman is also related to two families who were enslaved at the plantation.

Gayle Jessup White

"I love my ancestors. I love what they went through. I love what they've given us. That's my passion, that's what I care about, and the optics here represent them and their lives," said Jessup White.

There are 340 pieces that were found at Monticello on display ranging from tools, documents, photos, cooking equipment, remnants of a comb, even a toothbrush.

"That would be my favorite thing if you ask me in this exhibition. A toothbrush. Why? Because that humanizes the people doesn't it," said Jessup White.

She added that it has taken her 50 years to trace her family roots, by going to courthouses and retrieving records. Working on the grounds where her family built helped her learn even more, which is why she hopes these artifacts will inspire others.

"We even know for what he paid for the people he enslaved," said Jessup White. "Most people don't have that. But it doesn't mean that they can't learn from this family or they can't embrace this family as their own because there's not anyone in my family who's not like someone in other people's families."

Open now, The Paradox of Liberty: Slavery at Jefferson's Monticello will be on display through April 18 at the Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia.

Gayle Jessup White believes the exhibit will leave a lasting impression.

"I want people to walk away from this exhibition knowing how strong, how influential, how powerful our ancestors are, and how strong, influential, and how powerful we could be," she added.

The Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10a.m. to 5p.m. Admission prices may vary. For more information, you can contact the museum at 804-780-9093 or online.