On October 31, 1998, the Associated Press broke the news of the DNA findings linking Thomas Jefferson to Sally Hemings through the Eston Hemings line. On November 10, on national TV, Oprah united members of the Jefferson family and the descendants of the Eston, Madison, and Woodson lines of the Hemings family--and history was made. On this show, Lucian Truscott IV, a Jefferson descendant, issued an invitation to the Hemings family to come to a family reunion at Monticello. At the reunion, emotions ran high--and it was in this setting that photographer Jane Feldman met Shannon Lanier and the idea for this book was born. The authors have since traveled the country amassing historical materials and interviewing and photographing members of both sides of the family. This is the story of their journey, 200 years back in time, and back and forth across family and racial lines. It is not so much a story of black and white as it is a story about an American family.
The controversy over the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and his African American slave Sally Hemings has raged for generations. Shannon Lanier, a 20-year-old descendant of Jefferson and Hemings, was inspired to delve deeper into the debate after attending the Monticello Association's yearly meeting in 1999. On the heels of the discovery through DNA evidence of a link between Jefferson and Hemings, excitement was running high at Jefferson's famous homestead. Lanier, who is black, encountered Jeffersons who embraced him, and those who wouldn't even shake his hand. He met Hemingses who looked as white as Jeffersons, Jeffersons who refused to acknowledge the scientific evidence, and Hemingses who were angry at having to prove their lineage. In this climate of stirred-up emotions and racial tensions, Lanier, along with photographer Jane Feldman, decided to write this book in hopes of unraveling some of the mystery, and giving members of one of America's largest, most well-known families a chance to speak. The result is a fascinating look at race relations, history--both oral and written, and family ties. The authors interview dozens of individuals who claim--or disclaim--shared ancestry. Many of those interviewed believe that, DNA testing or not, the connection between these families is a powerful symbol of America; to acknowledge the link would be a major step toward racial harmony. Eager, friendly, and astute, Lanier brings out the heartfelt thoughts and emotions of his extended family, while Feldman's photos capture the expressions of hope and joy on their faces. (Ages 11 and older) --Emilie Coulter