Dana Goldstein: Monticello.... I visited there last Memorial Day weekend. Today, via Matt Yglesias, I see Ben Smith is reporting that Paula Abeles -- a white Jefferson descendant who's been active in keeping black descendants out of Monticello family reunions -- has become a John McCain volunteer after initially support Hillary Clinton. I've long been fascinated by Jefferson and his family history, and it's worth expanding, I think, upon how deeply racist and out-of-the-mainstream folks like Abeles are.
Conclusive DNA evidence linking Jefferson or one of his brothers to the black Hemings line has existed since 1998. In 2000, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation concluded it was likely that Jefferson himself fathered all six of his slave Sally Hemings' children. The dates of their births correspond quite neatly to nine months after the rare times Jefferson and Hemings were simultaneously at the estate. And historical documents indicate, the foundation found, that "several people close to Thomas Jefferson or the Monticello community believed that he was the father of Sally Hemings' children."
If you visit Monticello today, you'll hear chilling, wrenching stories about the lives of the hundreds of enslaved people who lived there. Jefferson, although thought of in his own time and today as a "benevolent" slave-owner, did instruct his overseer to beat his slaves. Jefferson sold husbands away from wives and teenagers away from their parents. Jefferson publicly tortured and humiliated runaways.
Those Jefferson descendants who continue to reject their black brethren are facing off against both science and history, choosing to embrace an outdated and, quite literally, white-washed image of their scion...