The name of Sally Hemings will no longer remain a dirty secret in American presidential history.
Hemings, a slave of Thomas Jefferson, had a longterm relationship with the president.
She reportedly slept just steps away from Jefferson’s bedroom, but traces of her presence were all but erased from his Monticello estate–until now.
As the estate undergoes a $35 million restoration project, floor tiles have been pulled up revealing Heming’s room and the large role she played in the Jefferson home.
Jefferson’s legacy comes with contradictions–in essence, he was the author behind the Declaration of Independence while simultaneously holding slaves at Monticello.
“Visitors will come up here and understand that there was no place on this mountaintop that slavery wasn’t,” said Christa Dierksheide, a historian at the property. “Thomas Jefferson was surrounded by people, and the vast majority of those people were enslaved.”
But Heming’s history goes beyond a room and a role as a slave and Jefferson’s ‘mistress.’ Historians hope to ‘humanize’ her history and the history of her family through the detailed exhibit.
“Sally Hemings was better traveled than most Americans, so we want to tell a story about her that doesn’t limit her to Jefferson’s property,” said Gary Sandling, a vice president of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which owns and runs Monticello as a museum.