The Atlantic

When Slavery Is Erased From Plantations

Some presidential estates and other historical sites have struggled to reconcile founding-era exceptionalism with the true story of America’s original sin.
Source: Sylvia Jennings Alexander Estate / The Atlantic

The story of Sally Hemings—the enslaved woman who bore six of Thomas Jefferson’s children—is told from the basement of Jefferson’s mansion at his Monticello plantation in Charlottesville, Virginia. The third American president’s legacy barely touches the brick floors and plastered walls of Hemings’s windowless room, their two lives more unconnected at Monticello today than they were in 1791.

At George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, slavery is similarly separated from the nation’s founding father. A temporary exhibition,  “,” explores the lives of 19 men, women, and children owned by Washington. It is the site’s attempt to tell the stories of the enslaved at the Virginia plantation—yet Washington’s legacy sits a safe distance away from this narrative, as the framework for his

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