Mecklenburg Chapter Hosts Black Descendant of Thomas Jefferson

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(November 11, 2021) The Mecklenburg Chapter in Charlotte, NC, hosted another large community dinner event on Veterans Day this year featuring a well-known media professional from Washington, D.C., Gayle Jessup White. She is also a descendant of our Nation’s third President, Thomas Jefferson, and his enslaved mistress, Sally Hemings.

“An integral part of our Society’s charter is to present unique and interesting community programs on all aspects about the people, places and events of the Revolutionary War,” said Tom Phlegar, Mecklenburg SAR chapter program chairman. “When Ms. White accepted our speaking invitation, we were thrilled at the opportunity to bring such an influential and important American Patriot to Charlotte.”

Gayle Jessup White discusses her family's historic connection to Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings at the Mecklenburg SAR dinner event in Charlotte, NC on November 11 2021.

Currently Gayle is the public relations and community engagement officer at the Thomas Jefferson Foundation that owns and operates Monticello in Charlottesville, VA. She is a former award-winning TV reporter and anchor, a journalist with The New York Times and a show host and producer at her undergraduate alma matter, Howard University. She holds the profound honor to be the first African American employed at the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.

“When Ms. White walked into the room, she was immediately surrounded by DAR ladies who wanted to meet her and take photos with her,” said Phlegar. “She was an instant success before the evening began!”

Ms. White spoke about the long-heard stories passed down from her father’s family, that they were direct descendants of Thomas Jefferson—lore she firmly believed, though others did not. For four decades the acclaimed journalist and genealogy enthusiast researched her connection to Thomas Jefferson, to confirm its truth once and for all.

She knew of the roots of enslaved people through the history linked to Mr. Jefferson, whom she had long admired from when she was just a small child. But when she arrived at Monticello and walked through the doors, the emotions of the reality of how many enslaved people had been associated with Mr. Jefferson and Monticello literally let the wind out of her sails.

“Her presentation was emotional, inspiring and humorous,” added Phlegar. “We could really feel her passion and struggle with wanting to find the truth about her family’s connection to Mr. Jefferson and Ms. Hemings. It was such a long journey for her, and thus the reason for her keeping journals to write her book.”

Ms. White’s new book, Reclamation: Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson and a Descendant’s Search for Her Family’s Lasting Legacy, has just been released by HarperCollins. In Reclamation she chronicles her remarkable journey to definitively understand her heritage and reclaim it and offers a compelling portrait of what it means to be a black woman in America, to pursue the American dream, to reconcile the legacy of racism, and to ensure the nation lives up to the ideals advocated by her legendary ancestor.

About Gayle Jessup White
Writer and communications specialist with a passion for U.S. history, research, writing, community outreach, public speaking, education, civic service, and social justice; former TV reporter and anchor with more than twenty years of professional experience, bringing a network of media contacts, community leaders, educators, and scholars into her sphere on influence; devoted community activist, serving as a trustee on several non-profit boards.

About Sally Hemings
Sally Hemings (1773-1835) is one of the most famous—and least known—African American women in U.S. history. For more than 200 years, her name has been linked to Thomas Jefferson as his “concubine,” obscuring the facts of her life and her identity.

Sally Hemings was able to negotiate with her owner, Thomas Jefferson. In Paris, where she was free, the 16-year-old agreed to return to enslavement at Monticello in exchange for “extraordinary privileges” for herself and freedom for her unborn children. Over the next 32 years Hemings raised four children fathered by Thomas Jefferson—Beverly, Harriet, Madison, and Eston—and prepared them for their eventual emancipation. She did not negotiate for, or ever receive, legal freedom in Virginia.

Sally Hemings was never legally emancipated. Instead, she was unofficially freed—or “given her time”—by Jefferson’s daughter Martha after Mr. Jefferson’s death.