Group says no to Jefferson slave's kin

Published: Monday, May 6 2002 10:50 a.m. MDT

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Descendants of a Thomas Jefferson slave reputed to have borne several of his children will not be welcomed into an organization for Jefferson relatives.

In a closed meeting Sunday, the Monticello Association voted to continue to restrict membership to Jefferson's descendants through his daughters Martha and Maria.

That excludes descendants of Sally Hemings, a slave at Monticello with whom Jefferson is rumored to have had a sexual relationship. The association cited a panel of scholars who concluded there was insufficient evidence to establish Jefferson's paternity of Hemings' children.

During the meeting, Lucian Truscott IV, a supporter of the Hemings claims, displayed a photograph of a black man with a zipper across his mouth, which he said John Works Jr., a former Monticello president, e-mailed to him.

After the meeting, Works said he regretted sending the photo, which he called insensitive. He said his intention was to remind Truscott of a pledge association members made not to discuss the Hemings issue with the media.

"I just sent that as a reminder to keep his mouth shut," Works said. "I regret that it was a black face. If it had been a white face I would have used that instead."

The scholars' committee that concluded there was insufficient evidence of Jefferson's paternity was formed at Works' behest.

DNA tests have shown a male in Jefferson's family fathered Hemings' son, Eston. But the study commissioned by Works argued that Jefferson's younger brother, Randolph, was the likely father.

The Monticello Association, created in 1913 to promote the third president and preserve the cemetery where he is buried, also rejected a proposal to create a separate group for descendants of slaves at Monticello.

Shay Banks-Young, a Hemings descendant, shrugged off Sunday's decision. "We're not hurt by this," she said. "Not being part of the association doesn't remove us from this family."

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