Saturday, September 3, 2011

Debunking an Old Paternity Rumor? Or Just Digging Up Old Dirt?

A Huffington Post article this week says it has "new evidence" regarding the connection between Thomas Jefferson and his children by Sally Hemings. The report claims it has a new "scholarly report" that disputes that claim. The report then goes back to regurgitate all the old things we already know: namely that a DNA study back in the late 90s linked Jefferson's DNA to some of Hemings's children.

The Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society says -- as they always have -- that that doesn't mean the father is necessarily Jefferson. It could have been his brother, they say. The Hemings family, however, claims otherwise.

The family of Sally Hemings has an oral tradition linking it directly to Jefferson. Why do we take some of Jefferson'­s children at their word, yet consistently debate, disparage or question his children of color?

The word of the family isn't 'scholarly' it would seem, at least to some.

Why is the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society so eager to disprove Jefferson's paternity when it comes to the Hemings's offspring? A quick review of their website unearths a startling pattern. They seem more eager to disprove Jefferson had any connection to Hemings, than they are to finding the truth.

There are links to articles against "biohistory," i.e. using DNA to research and study historic figures. Such research invades the "privacy" of the families involved, they say.

Once could assume from this series of readings on DNA and Hemings that discovering you have black relatives is a not something to embrace, it's something to fear. There are even links to articles that explain how more African Americans are using DNA analysis to find their heritage, an article that has no mention of Jefferson or the Hemings controversy whatsoever.

One narrative "Is it True? A Primer of Jefferson DNA" even attacks the Hemings family. The author even goes so far as to say, quote "If the Hemings oral histories are so good, why don't they know where their ancestors are buried? One of the first, most basic things a family does is honor the burial place of their ancestors."

Say what? Maybe the writer, who claims to be a Jefferson descendant - one who I assume hasn't been forced to offer his own DNA to prove his claims - just doesn't understand slavery. Maybe he doesn't know that slaves were routinely sold away from their families, punished and even killed for trying to maintain ancestral connections. Had Mr. Works, the writer, been stripped from his family, sold into slavery on another continent, robbed of his history and language, even threatened with death for trying to maintain any sort of family ties, he wouldn't know where his ancestors were buried either. But I digress.

Having a black child isn't an abomination. It doesnt make Jefferson any less of a great figure in history. It would be nice if the Jefferson Society, which stated mission is to preserve Jefferson's legacy, was more interested in embracing all Jefferson was as a historic figure -- even if a part of that legacy includes a man who loved a black slave and fathered her children.

You can read the full article here:
Thomas Jefferson Slave Paternity Rumors: New Study Questions Evidence That Former President Fathered Sally Hemings' Child

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