African-American Woman Makes History
by Christine Le, Celebrity Cafe
On Wednesday night, Annette Gordon-Reed made history when she became the first African-American woman to win the National Book Award in the nonfiction category. The 59th awards took place on Wall Street, New York, with nearly 700 attendees, according to the NY Times.
Gordon-Reed’s book, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, is the result of extensive research and interest in the biography of three generations of a slave family owned by Thomas Jefferson (NY Times). Having grown up in partially segregated East Texas with politically active parents, Gordon-Reed delved into a book on Jefferson’s life, titled Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate Portrait, immersing herself in his political philosophies. She became deeply intrigued by the relations between Jefferson and the Hemings family (NJ.com).
“In Paris, Jefferson and the Hemingses were operating outside the slavery system. They saw people of color who were free, who were equal members of society,” said Gordon-Reed, according to NJ.com. “Slavery was outlawed there, so Jefferson no longer held complete power over them. They, too, realized this, and were able to experience more in the freer society.”
A history professor at Rutgers-Newark and NY Law School, this is the second of her books on Jefferson and the Hemings family, with the first being Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, published in 1997 (NJ.com).
This is not the first time Gordon-Reed has made history. According to NJ.com, 40 years ago she was the first child to desegregate Anderson Elementary School, which she attended in Conroe, Texas.