July 4, 2015
The 239th birthday of the United States of America
I’ve written a special new post for America’s birthday this year. (With special hyperlinks, too; be sure and check ’em.)
Instead of reposting the piece about how many of my kids’ ancestors were actually here, living within the area that became known as the USA on that fateful 4th of July, back in 1776, I’ve written this year’s 4th of July post that in a way is a bit of an inversion of that idea.
So instead of taking two people alive now in 2015 (my kids) and reversing the film-reel of time through their mom’s and my ancestors to situate those pieces from which we came that were here back then–which is quite instructive since her ancestors were all in Virginia and mine were in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Massachusetts and even includes at least a couple of people who were a quarter Native American–I’m starting with two people who were alive 239 years ago, back on the July 4th that gave the day its name, that gave it a reason to have fireworks–and am winding the proverbial film-reel of time forward from them.
Before the Big Reveal, here, I should preface by saying that I didn’t uncover a new tale. Rather I came upon some photographs–freely and readily available–that illustrate just how relevant the two people I chose to “roll forward” from are to us today. The “here and now” of the present day being what was the future for them, it also includes what is past to us as well as the present time.
And they are relevant because their story–only accepted into the general, conventional version of American history over the last 25 years–is “essential reading”, as it were, to understand indeed how we got where we are now as a nation. Because, although the recent terrible church massacre in South Carolina demonstrates that we still have so, so very far to go, every such event, every such act of racially justified hatred, bullying, attempt at dominance on that fallacious basis must always be answered with: “Never again”. And boy does it ever tie in tightly with the 4th of July.
Without further ado, I bring you the legacy of a very particular couple who lived a long time ago in America at the time this great nation was born.
The male half of the couple has been well known to history since his own time, and deservedly so. For although the efforts of many people engendered the birth of the USA, one man in particular, Thomas Jefferson, in the words of historian Clay Jenkinson, “found the language to express the greatest aspirations that humanity has.”
True enough. And those century-resounding words contained in the Declaration of Independence must be read anew in the context of other of his actions about which, tellingly, he left few to no words at all: his mating with the female half of our couple, Sally Hemings. Sally’s maternal grandmother had been taken from Africa by British slavers; thus, despite being only a quarter African, since the law of the times and place stipulated that if one’s mother was a slave, you were, too, Sally was not only Jefferson’s mate–mother of 4 kids–but also his property.
The legacy to be shared here this 4th of July season is of Thomas Jefferson’s descendants through Sally Hemings.
These were people who should have been the closest thing the U.S. would have had to royalty: the offspring of the AUTHOR of the Declaration, of the “proposition that all men are created equal”, as Abe Lincoln had it. But because they were considered “black”, they were forbidden from claiming that heritage.
A glance at these photos of some of his genetic legacy speaks volumes.