WASHINGTON (AP) — Thomas Jefferson wrote “all men are created equal” to declare U.S. independence from Britain, yet he was a lifelong slave owner who freed only nine of his more than 600 slaves during his lifetime.
That contradiction between ideals and reality is at the center of a new exhibit opening Friday as the Smithsonian Institution continues developing a national black history museum. It offers a look at Jefferson’s Monticelloplantation in Virginia through the lives of six slave families and artifacts unearthed from where they lived.
The exhibit, “Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty,” was developed with Monticello and will be on view at the National Museum of American History through mid-October. It includes a look at the family of Sally Hemings, a slave. Most historians now believe she had an intimate relationship with the third president, and he fathered her children.
Museum Director Lonnie Bunch said his staff can test ideas by building exhibits before the National Museum of African American History and Culture is finished.
It will be the first museum added to the National Mall since 2004. A groundbreaking is planned for Feb. 22, and it is scheduled to open in 2015 near the Washington Monument.