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Annette Gordon-Reed

Annette Gordon-Reed
Born Annette Gordon
November 19, 1958
Texas, USA
Alma mater Dartmouth College
Harvard Law School
Occupation Professor
Employer Harvard Law School
Harvard University
Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study
Known for American Legal History, American Slavery and the Law
Spouse(s) Judge Robert Reed

Annette Gordon-Reed (born November 19, 1958)[1] is an American historian and law professor noted for changing scholarship on Thomas Jefferson regarding his relationship with Sally Hemings and children by her.

Gordon-Reed was educated at Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School. She is Professor of Law and History at Harvard, and the Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.[2] She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for History and 15 other prizes in 2009 for her work on the Hemings family of Monticello, and in 2010 she received the National Humanities Medal and was named a MacArthur Fellow.


  • Background and education 1
  • Marriage and family 2
  • Professional and academic career 3
    • Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy (1997) 3.1
    • Vernon Can Read! (2001) 3.2
    • The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (2008) 3.3
    • Andrew Johnson (2011) 3.4
    • Awards and recognition 3.5
  • Bibliography (books only) 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Background and education

Gordon-Reed was born November 19, 1958 in Livingston, Texas, to Bettye Jean Gordon and Alfred Gordon. She became interested in Thomas Jefferson as a student in elementary school. She graduated from Dartmouth College in 1981 and from Harvard Law School in 1984, where she was a member of the Harvard Law Review.[2]

Marriage and family

Annette Gordon-Reed is married to Robert Reed, a civil court judge in the Bronx, whom she met while at Harvard Law School. She lives on the Upper West Side of New York with her husband and two children, Gordon and Susan.[3]

Professional and academic career

Gordon-Reed spent her early career as an associate at Cahill Gordon & Reindel, and as Counsel to the New York City Board of Corrections. She speaks or moderates at numerous conferences across the country on history and law-related topics. She was previously Wallace Stevens Professor of Law at New York Law School (1992–2010) and Board of Governors Professor of History at Rutgers University, Newark (2007–2010).[4] In 2010, she joined Harvard University with joint appointments in history and law, and as Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

Lee C. Bollinger, President of Columbia University, presents the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for History to Annette Gordon-Reed.

Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy (1997)

Her first book sparked great interest from fellow scholars, as it investigated the long-standing historical controversy of whether Thomas Jefferson had a sexual relationship with his slave Sally Hemings and fathered children by her. Most academic historians had accepted Jefferson descendants' denials and assertion that Peter Carr (a nephew of Jefferson) was the father, which was adopted by the biographer James Parton and succeeding historians for more than 100 years. As some historians began to reinvestigate Jefferson in the late twentieth century, his defenders responded as if assertions of his paternity were intended to damage his historical reputation, despite the widespread acknowledgement by then of interracial liaisons in Jefferson's time. The president was a Founding Father icon. By the mid-1970s, Fawn M. Brodie wrote the first biography of Jefferson to seriously examine the evidence related to Sally Hemings; she thought the Hemings-Jefferson liaison was likely. Gordon-Reed "drew on her legal training to apply context and reasonable interpretation to the sparse documentation" and analyzed the historiography as well.[4] The writer Christopher Hitchens in Slate described her analysis as "brilliant."

Gordon-Reed identified a set of unexamined assumptions that had governed many Jefferson scholars' investigations. These assumptions were that white people tell the truth, black people lie, slave owners tell the truth, and slaves lie. Gordon-Reed cross-checked the versions of events provided by former Monticello slaves, such as Madison Hemings, who claimed Jefferson as his father, and Isaac Jefferson, who confirmed Thomas Jefferson's paternity of the Hemings children, against documented historical evidence to which they could not have had access. She similarly cross-checked oral traditions among Hemings' descendants with primary sources such as Jefferson's papers and agricultural records. She demonstrated errors made by historians, and noted facts which the white Jefferson descendants and historians had overlooked, which contradicted their assertions that Jefferson's Carr nephews had fathered the children. As the historian Winthrop Jordan had noted and was publicized by Brodie, Dumas Malone's documentation showed that Jefferson was at Monticello each time Hemings conceived and she never conceived when he was not there. Gordon-Reed noted that all of Sally Hemings' children were freed, as Madison said Jefferson had promised. Her analysis led her to conclude that Jefferson and Hemings did have an intimate sexual relationship, though she did not try to characterize it. Reprinted in 1999, her new edition of the book has a foreword incorporating the 1998 DNA study.

The DNA study in 1998 reported a Y-DNA match between the Jefferson male line and a male descendant of Eston Hemings; researchers noted that, added to the body of historical evidence, this strongly suggested Thomas Jefferson was the father of the children.[5] In addition, it conclusively showed there was no match between the Hemings descendant and the descendants of the Carr line, so neither of the nephews could have been the father. The findings received national attention, with PBS devoting a lengthy program to the issues, and have stimulated new scholarship. Major groups re-assessed their evaluation of historical evidence related to this issue.

In 2000, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which operates Monticello, announced that its internal study had concluded that Jefferson was likely the father of Eston and all of Hemings' children. It has since changed its exhibits, programming, academic research and other materials to reflect this. In 2001 the National Genealogical Society published a special issue on the topic; its specialists demonstrated how their review of the weight of evidence led them to conclude that Thomas Jefferson was the father of Heming's children.[6] The William and Mary Quarterly devoted an issue to the topic in 2001. Some historians disagree; the newly formed Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society commissioned an independent report and scholars associated with it have continued to argue with the consensus. The 2001 Scholars Commission of 13 independent experts examined the DNA evidence and pronounced it unlikely that Jefferson fathered any of Hemings' children. Then, in 2013, Andrew Holochak's book, "Framing a Legend" critically examines the critical history, including Gordon Reed's work and concludes that it is flawed.

Vernon Can Read! (2001)

A memoir of Vernon Jordan, the civil rights activist, written with him, portraying his life from childhood through the 1980s. It won the Best Nonfiction Book for 2001 from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. In 2002 it won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and a Trailblazer Award from the Metropolitan Black Bar Association.[7]

The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (2008)

Gordon-Reed published the first volume of a planned two-volume history on the Hemings family and their descendants, bringing a slave family to life on their own terms. She traced the many descendants of Elizabeth Hemings and their families during the time that they lived at Monticello; she had 75 descendants there. It was widely praised for its groundbreaking treatment of an extended slave family. It won the Pulitzer Prize for History [8][9] and 15 additional awards.[10]

Andrew Johnson (2011)

Gordon-Reed's most recent book examines Johnson and his historical reputation. She notes that he did not favor integration of the freedmen into America's mainstream and caused the delay of their full emancipation. Although he was long considered a hero, his reputation became tainted after 1900, as white historians researched his actions or lack thereof regarding integration of African Americans. Gordon-Reed has noted that the abolitionist Frederick Douglass realized Johnson was no friend of African Americans.[11]

Gordon-Reed argues in the book that much of the misery imposed on African Americans could have been avoided if they had been given portions of land to cultivate as their own. Without land, African Americans in the Deep South generally earned livings as sharecroppers, primarily (if not totally) under white land owners. They had few economic resources or choices and, often illiterate, were forced to accept the owner's reckoning of accounts at the end of the year. They often had to buy supplies at his store, which became part of the reckoning. She likens their situation to that of immigrant workers in the New York garment industry (sweat shops) in the 1890s, and coal miners, who were captives of mining company stores until the UMWA was founded in 1890.[11]

Awards and recognition

Gordon-Reed was the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for History, for her 2008 work on the Hemings family.[12])[8][9] She won 15 additional awards for the book.[10][13][14]

  • On September 28, 2010, Gordon-Reed was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, also known as the "genius grants".[22] The Foundation noted that her "persistent investigation into the life of an iconic American president has dramatically changed the course of Jeffersonian scholarship."[23]

Gordon-Reed has also received a Guggenheim Fellowship for Monticello Legacies in the New Age, 2009; and a Cullman Center Fellowship from the New York Public Library for 2010-2011 to work on Monticello Legacies. She was Columbia University’s Barbara A. Black Lecturer, 2001; and won a Bridging the Gap Award for fostering racial reconciliation, 2000. She holds honorary degrees, from Ramapo College in New Jersey and the College of William and Mary in May 2010.[24]

On March 7, 2009 she was interviewed on the WBGO program Conversations with Allan Wolper. She discussed the intimate relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings, as well as issues that American black women face today. [25]

Bibliography (books only)


  1. ^ Jennie Yabroff (2008-10-04). "Annette Gordon-Reed on the Sally Hemings Saga". Newsweek. Retrieved 2010-09-11. 
  2. ^ a b "Annette Gordon-Reed ’84 to join the Harvard faculty". Recent News and Spotlights, April 30, 2010. Harvard Law School.
  3. ^ "Only a Brief Pause for Rest", New York Times, 28 June 2009
  4. ^ a b "Annette Gordon-Reed", MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved 2011-02-09.
  5. ^ "Annette Gordon-Reed: Rutgers-Newark Appoints Nationally Renowned Presidential Scholar to Faculty", History News Network. Retrieved 2011-02-09.
  6. ^ National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 89, No. 3, September 2001, p. 207
  7. ^ "Annette Gordon-Reed ’84 to join the Harvard faculty". 2010-04-30. Retrieved 2010-09-11. 
  8. ^ a b c "Rutgers-Newark prof Annette Gordon-Reed wins Pulitzer Prize"
  9. ^ a b "History". Past winners & finalists by category. The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2012-03-24.
  10. ^ a b Jennie Yabroff, "A Lawyer’s New Jefferson Memorial: The next chapter in the Hemings saga", NEWSWEEK On Conversations With Allan Wolper (March 7, 2009), Ms.Gordon-Reed said one of the reasons she wrote the book was to prove that African Americans could write about white politicians.
  11. ^ a b Interview with Annette Gordon-Reed"], Tavis Smiley show, 28 February 2011
  12. ^ Michael Bandler, "Pulitzer Prize for Drama Honors Play about Women in Wartime Congo: Biography, Fiction, History, Music, Nonfiction, Poetry Winners Also Named"
  13. ^ 2008 NBCC Finalists Announced |author= Barbara Hoffert
  14. ^ Columbia University
  15. ^ "National Book Awards – 2008". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-24.
    (With acceptance speech by Gordon-Reed and interview.)
  16. ^ "2009 George Washington Book Prize Awarded at Mount Vernon"
  17. ^ "Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards :: 2006 Winners". Archived from the original on 23 August 2010. Retrieved 2010-09-11. 
  18. ^ "Awards - NJCH Annual Book Award". NJCH. Retrieved 2010-09-11. 
  19. ^ "New York Law School Professor Wins $25,000 Frederick Douglass Book Prize"
  20. ^ a b "Library of Virginia Literary Award | W. W. Norton & Company". Retrieved 2010-09-11. 
  21. ^ Post Store (2010-02-26). "Obama honors leaders in arts and humanities". Retrieved 2010-09-11. 
  22. ^ "Annette Gordon-Reed", NPR
  23. ^ "Annette Gordon-Reed", MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved 2011-02-09.
  24. ^ "Annette Gordon-Reed ’84 to join the Harvard faculty". 2010-04-30. Retrieved 2010-09-11. 

External links

  • "Annette Gordon-Reed".  Harvard Faculty Directory
  • , February 21, 1999.Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy interview with Gordon-Reed on Booknotes
  • Annette Gordon-Reed talks at The University of Sydney on ABC Fora VIDEO
  • "Annette Gordon-Reed Receives MacArthur Genius Grant". 
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