Saturday, April 14, 2012

"A Thin Thread" (Monticello continued)

Mulberry Row... the buildings were on the right, the left is the "kitchen garden
A Thin Thread

With hands, black, and voices moaning
Monticello rose brick by brick
under Virginia's blazing sun.

With voices moaning and calloused hands
lowland's water carried bucket by bucket
for a gentleman's country estate
under Virginia's blazing sun.

With calloused hands and aching backs
earth's red clay dug and cleaned
for an idealized realm
under Virginia's blazing sun.

With aching backs and hearts longing to be free
two thousand bricks per day, molded, dried, burned, refined
for a Roman Neoclassic
under Virginia's blazing sun.

With hearts longing to be free and hope a thin thread
bodies labored, hammered, timbered, quarried
for Jefferson's architectural masterpiece
under Virginia's blazing sun.

With hope a thin thread for six hundred slaves,

ten found freedom.

by Margaret Bednar, Art Happens 365, April 10, 2012

This chimney and rocky foundation is all that remains of the "joiners shop" one of the first
structures on Mulberry Row.  Here free and enslaved workmen produced some of the finest
woodwork in Virginia.  The enslaved children of Sally and Thomas Jefferson, Eston and
Madison Hemings, were trained as artisans here by their enslaved uncle, John Hemmings.  
* * * * *

Linked with Imaginary Garden with Real Toads "Open Link Monday"

HERE is the 1873 memoirs of Madison Hemings, the son of Thomas Jeffeson and Sally Hemings, who was only 1/8th black.

I DO admire Thomas Jefferson, but I am having a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that he was so "enlightened" and an educated deep thinker... and yet, he still lived his life as a slave owner.

Perhaps what I and others need to keep in mind, to paraphrase Annette Gordon Reed:  "...celebrate Jefferson's accomplishments, his importance, and tolerate his flaws...  flaws don't mean the person is worthless... "

Everything that Jefferson did... his accomplishments are NOT lessoned because he loved a black woman.  The Hemings oral family history is that he loved Sally Hemings.  His actions towards her, her children and extended family point towards this truth.

I am reading Professor Annette Gorden Reed's book "The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family and I am finding it quite educational... a bit bogged down in detail in the "origins" section, but I feel it is necessary and very insightful as it "humanizes" history.  She is very interesting (I could listen to her for days)!  If you have time, watch this video.  (she DOES speak for over an hour... but if you have any interest in this subject, I think you should grab a glass of wine or a cup of coffee and enjoy it!  :)

She is working on Part II of the Hemings story, picking it up where the first book ends (1931).  She is also working on a biography of Thomas Jefferson.  I can't wait for both of these.


Kerry O'Connor said...

I read a novel, written from Sally's perspective, several years ago, but the title escapes me now. The story itself stuck. I think if one bears in mind that slavery was an accepted way of life, not considered to be morally or ethically reprehensible, one can come to terms with Jefferson having been part of the practice, rather than using hindsight to try to understand it. Consider the social norms of the time, which disallowed him from marrying the woman he loved, because she was 1/8th Black. It is a slice of history well worth knowing about.

izzy said...

History is so rich and fascinating!
I love visiting those old homes- and valued it as a child. Nice writing as always! I did email you on your photo blog, yesterday.

Kim Nelson said...

I visited Monticello not too long ago and found myself in awe of the man and his mind. As a gardener, I marveled at his botanical knowledge and accomplishments.

Ginnie said...

All of this is absolutely fascinating, Margaret. I'm listening to Annette Gordon Reed in the background. WOW.

Fred Rutherford said...

Such a good post. Love the repetition and tone throughout the poem and for the backstory you really went all out. The video was sputtering a bit for me, will have to come back to finish it, but very interesting from what I saw. Thanks for the post.

Sherry Blue Sky said...

The photos are incredible. What a beautiful spot. I found the poem very powerful, especially that only ten of the 600 slaves found freedom. Interesting background notes too on a topic of deep interest. Great post!

Heaven said...

I am not aware of this historical importance but thanks for sharing this with us. I can't even comprehend slavery but in the context of history, it was an economic and political system and necessity back then. Your poem is effective with the refraining lines...I feel the despair of those slaves ~

Semaphore said...

I've always been fascinated by Monticello, but your poem, with its fervent refrain, focussed on an aspect of it that I hadn't considered. That, coupled with the historical perspective in your end-notes, made me definitely stop and think. Thanks for sharing moment out of history, and your dramatization of that moment.

Teresa said...

What a poem with a punch. Truly a step back into time. I think it's always important that we look at historical figures with a much broader perspective.

hedgewitch said...

Glad to see you still working with this theme, Margaret. It's a part of all our heritage in the western world, not just the American South. Much of Europe's wealth flowed from the slave trade, and from slave labor in the New World. AFA Jefferson himself, slavery in his time was a means to an end and historically entrenched, not even vaguely anything but a purely economic issue. Unfortunately and morally and ethically reprehensible as it was, non-whites were considered in the same category as domestic animals.It made it so much easier to brutalize and kill them for profit.(I'm also thinking of Native Americans.) I think your poem gets all this across well. It shows how what is accepted as a run of the mill fact by society can be a self-serving lie, hideously and totally wrong. Anyway, sorry for running on--this was an excellent, thoughtful and well-researched piece, and a great total presentation--especially the photos, which are vibrantly alive.

Anonymous said...

Your first two lines and final two lines are incredibly powerful. Strong piece.


Jannie Funster said...

I remember reading underground railroad books as a child and this moves me as much as those did so long ago.

This was my introduction to Monticello. I'm sure I will read more.

Peace to you and yours.


Anonymous said...

I'm from Maryland. The sun is hot. The days are humid. Wonderful poem. k.

Wolfsrosebud said...

lovely post... so complete in many ways... also loved your header... great pics