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Jefferson's Children: The Story of One American Family Paperback – December 24, 2002

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Jefferson's Children: The Story of One American Family + The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family + Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy
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Editorial Reviews Review

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

"My name is Shannon Lanier. I am a twenty-year-old descendant of Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings," begins this thought-provoking, handsome volume designed to resemble a family photo album. Earnest and energetic, Lanier, Jefferson's fifth great-grandson through Sally Hemings's son Madison, brings both these qualities to his anecdotal narrative as he introduces descendents through both family lines and affectingly conveys the tension that surrounded some of his encounters. Describing the first Jefferson family reunion to which the Hemings relatives were invited, at Monticello in 1999, Lanier writes: "There were Jeffersons there who threw their arms around me, and one woman who looked at my outstretched hand and actually shuddered." Those responses are reflected in the profiles here, too, from Jane Floyd's (a descendant of Sally Hemings's and Jefferson's eldest son) articulate discussion of black history including the forming of the NAACP, to Jane Randolph Schluter's flat refusal to believe that Jefferson fathered Hemings's children ("In my family, it was always referred to as a rumor propagated by the Hemings family"). Not surprisingly, some of the subjects are more eloquent and have more compelling stories to recount than others (and some detail their family trees to such a degree that youngsters may get lost in the branches). But this makes a strong teaching tool and springboard for discussion on subjects as varied as understanding one's own genealogy and the devastating results of racial prejudice. Archival photographs supplement Feldman's crisp and candid black-and-white shots, which capture the essence of each subject. Ages 10-up. (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers; 1 edition (December 24, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375821686
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375821684
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.4 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #617,249 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Kali on July 4, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book for my 12 year old nephew who wanted to understand "passing."

He had heard that people "passed into the white world" and wanted to understand this concept as he comes from a mixed race background where his Grandmother scandalised many English people when she married a Bengali in a time when Black people were still being murdered for just whistling at a white girl in the USA.

So I have got him this book which talks candidly and in a language that a twelve year old will understand about "Jefferson's Children", both legitimate and illegitimate."

All of whom walked many paths, some down the road to embracing their Anglo-African roots, others to never know their slave origins as they slipped away into the embrace of their "white roots", and just as many who would never doubt their racial purity because they were descended from the two legitimate daughters of Thomas Jefferson.

This is an excellent book for teens and adults alike; it looks at the proud descendents from this illustrious lineage as well as those who see such a bloodline as curse rather than a blessing.

I liked the fact that the book wasn't over syrupy, it was down to earth yet proud with a healthy dose of cynicism from some people both Black and White, I liked that and I think my nephew will like that too.

Of course there are many people, who will continue to deny that Sally Hemmings and Thomas Jefferson ever had a relationship, and this is reflected in the book.

I find this curious as DNA has proven that the children of Sally Hemmings were Thomas Jefferson's offspring, and their excuses such as "Thomas loved his wife Martha too much to take up with a slave," made me smile.
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12 of 17 people found the following review helpful By The RAWSISTAZ Reviewers on May 27, 2003
Format: Paperback
This story is catalogued as a book for teens and young adults,
but I found it great reading for an older audience. It was
written as a result of research done by twenty-year-old Shannon
Lanier, a direct descendant of Thomas Jefferson and his slave
Sally Hemings. With slavery as the backdrop, this book is an
attempt to combine the history of one American family. Amidst
the controversy surrounding the biography of Thomas Jefferson
and his offspring, Shannon shares his family's story.
Many descendants of Martha Jefferson and several generations of
historians have resisted the claims of kinship to Jefferson by
Hemings' offspring, and they feel these claims will tarnish his
legacy. But the information collected by Shannon is not a myth,
and it is his belief that he has found the final piece of puzzle
to complete the search for the the Hemings' family tree. Shannon
never intended to bring shame to Jefferson's legacy, but he is
aware that his research will show an unveiled look at a man many
feel is beyond reproach.
The story is told with a collection of historical essays,
interviews and family photographs, and is wonderfully illustrated
by Jane Feldman. This is not the Thomas Jefferson we studied in
school and there is the strong possibility that this particular
information may never appear in history books. Since there are no
written records of the slaves' birth, and of the period after
slavery was abolished, to substantiate Shannon's claims. The
history during these periods was memorized and told by oral
historians. But in 1998 DNA tests produced evidence that there
is a link between the Jefferson and Hemings families.
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12 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Norm Ledgin--e-mail address on May 26, 2001
Format: Hardcover
In a dignified manner this book offers true accounts of lives that were lived in the shadows of an uncertain heritage. With more and more Americans embracing the Thomas Jefferson-Sally Hemings romantic relationship for the reality (I have longed believed) it was, we are free to enjoy--and to learn from--this mixed-race, talented, loving family.
Few literary efforts make race seem so indistinct and unimportant today as this work by a remarkable young Jefferson-Hemings descendant. Everyone who has felt cheated by historians while attempting to learn the full story of Americans' mixed heritage can make up for that in part by reading Jefferson's Children.
By the way--it's not just a children's book. It's for everyone. It also provides a good historical perspective of Sally Hemings as the half-sister of Jefferson's late wife, Martha, who died 19 years before he became President.
Some people's sense of reality will conclude, rightly I believe, that Sally Hemings was, in his heart, the First Lady of President Thomas Jefferson. I regret the time was not right for open acknowledgment of that. It certainly is now.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Jefferson's children is a delightful read!! It is a fast read with many pictures that are most enjoyable to see. The author did a good job with his family story of both black and white family of the historic Mr. Jefferson..anyone interested in history or Thomas Jefferson or Charlottesville, Virginia would want this book to read and have n their shelf. A coming together of the FAMILY even if some snobs do not agree. I got my copy of the book from Amazon and will certainly share with my family.
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