Jefferson descendants to speak on diversity

Sara Tennessen

Diversity among families will be the focus tonight during a presentation by two women who believe to be President Thomas Jefferson’s descendants.

Shay Banks-Young and Julia Jefferson will be presenting “Race and Family in America: a Conversation in Black and White,” at 8 p.m. in the Sun Room of the Memorial Union. The presentation is part of Women’s Week and is free to the public.

Banks-Young and Jefferson believe their respective great-great grandfathers were the sons of Jefferson and Sally Hemmings, a slave at Jefferson’s home in Virginia. The two discovered their connection by genetic testing.

Nancy Bevin, director of the Women’s Center, said the discussion will showcase the diversity of families. “It shows that there are many different ways of approaching the issues of race and family,” she said.

Bevin said Banks-Young and Jefferson will also address issues of racial and personal identity.

“In terms of history, their understanding of themselves and their identity points to the complications of identity in the United States,” she said. “It is important for all of us to think about our own identity in a way we can relate to each other as human beings.”

Gloria Jones-Johnson, professor of sociology, will be introducing the speakers and she said she will include several issues.

“This is a popular topic, and I know these women have gotten a lot of attention on television,” she said. “I will discuss how race, family and kinship have become integrated into society; the power of DNA and genetic testing; and the one-drop rule that kept these people from becoming a family.”

Jones-Johnson said a good example of the melding of races in the United States can be found in the relationship between Banks-Young and Jefferson.

“Not only is there no pure race, but people may be hating their own kin, and that’s why it is important,” she said.