Day Trips: African American Museum, Dallas

Jefferson’s Monticello exhibit takes straight look at slavery

Photo by Gerald E. McLeod

The African American Museum is bringing to Dallas a poignant exhibition on human bondage and the man who wrote "all men are created equal."

Originally organized by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation and the National Museum of African American History and Culture in 2012, the exhibit takes an unblinking look at slavery and the founding of the nation. Drawing from historical archives, "Slavery at Jefferson's Monticello: Paradox in Liberty" has been expanded to 300 rare items from the third president's home and includes new content on Sally Hemings.

One of the most famous African-American women in U.S. history, Sally Hemings gave birth to at least six children by Jefferson. She was the daughter of Jefferson's father-in-law and an enslaved woman, becoming Jefferson's companion after his wife's death.

Photo by Gerald E. McLeod

During his lifetime, Jefferson owned more than 600 humans, of which he set free only two. The Virginia planter was cognizant of the moral dilemma of the "deplorable entanglement" of slavery in a free society. Yet at his death, 130 individuals were sold to help satisfy his debts.

Photo by Gerald E. McLeod

Besides the Hemingses and Jeffersons, the exhibition chronicles six other families that lived at Monticello. More than the artifacts, it is the human stories that are the backbone of the exhibit. Among them was Joseph Fossett, a freed Jefferson slave, who worked to buy the freedom of his wife and children.

As the plaque at the beginning of the exhibit says: "We cannot have a clear view of Jefferson and the founding of our nation if we leave slavery out of the story."

"Slavery at Jefferson's Monticello: Paradox in Liberty" continues at the African American Museum in Dallas at Fair Park through Dec. 31. To purchase tickets, go to

1,419th in a series. Follow “Day Trips & Beyond,” a travel blog, at

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle