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Law Professor to Give UTSI’s Thomas Jefferson Lecture

Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, and one of our country’s most influential Founding Fathers is the subject of a series of annual lectures at The University of Tennessee Space Institute. This year’s lecture is scheduled for April 12, 2007 and will feature an interesting side of Jeffersonian history.

An outspoken proponent of the abolition of slavery, Jefferson was not only a slave owner, but in all probability had a liaison with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings, resulting in children. However, many historians from the nineteenth century to modern times have largely dismissed the relationship as a preposterous idea. Annette Gordon-Reed takes issue with historians’ denial of this.

Recognized as one of the country’s most distinguished presidential scholars, Gordon-Reed will present this year’s Thomas Jefferson Lecture entitled, “The Revolutionary Generation’s Response to Slavery and African Americans.”

Gordon-Reed is a Professor of Law at New York Law School. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in History from Dartmouth, her Doctorate from Harvard Law School and literary acclaim with her first book, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy published in 1997. She has since co-authored, Vernon Can Read: A Memoir with Vernon Jordan and edited Race on Trial: Law and Justice in American History.

Gordon-Reed’s book on Thomas Jefferson focuses on the way that historians have treated the matter of the liaison between the widowed Jefferson and Sally Hemings.

“It is my belief that those who are considered Jefferson scholars have never made a serious and objective attempt to get at the truth of this matter,” said Gordon-Reed. From all indications, “most Jefferson scholars decided from the outset that this story was not true and that, if they had anything to do with it, no one would come to think otherwise. In the most fundamental sense, the enterprise of defense has had little to do with expanding people’s knowledge of Thomas Jefferson or the other participants in the story. The goal has been quite the opposite: to restrict knowledge as a way of controlling the allowable discourse on this subject.” Gordon-Reed explains.

In coordination with this year’s lecture, students from four area high schools, Franklin County, Huntland High School, Lincoln County and Tullahoma High School, have been working on essays on “The Social Dichotomy in Jefferson’s America.” The winning student at each school will receive a $150 prize and will present their essay orally at UTSI on April 4 before a panel of judges. The overall winner will be announced during the lecture event and will receive a $300 prize.

The Eleventh Thomas Jefferson Lecture will begin at 3 p.m. on Thursday, April 12, 2007 in the UTSI Auditorium with a reception to follow in the lobby. This event is free and open to the public and all are encouraged to attend.

Annette Gordon-Reed
Professor of Law at New York Law School