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Monticello plans Juneteenth events to honor enslaved people and their descendants

Descendants re-designed the burial ground for enslaved people at Monticello.
Ian Atkins
Descendants re-designed the burial ground for enslaved people at Monticello.

It might seem unusual to celebrate when recalling slavery, but to Monticello’s director of public relations and community engagement, it makes perfect sense.

“When we speak of enslavement, we speak of pain, we speak of suffering, we speak of injustice, but we are ascending," says Gayle Jessup White. "We are rising above that. We have become who we are, because our ancestors were so strong!"

About 300 descendants are invited to a private re-dedication of Monticello’s burial ground for enslaved people.

“There are benches there just for descendants," Jessup White says. "There’s an entrance just for descendants, so that we can feel that this space belongs to us, because it does.”

On Saturday, the public is invited to hear from about 20 special guests including film director Ava Duvernay, jazz great Wynton Marsalis, authors Annette Gordon-Reed and Clint Smith.

Guests can also visit the café to enjoy a new brew inspired by Jessup White’s great, great, great grandfather.

“Peter Hemmings, a brother of Sally Hemmings, was a brewer at Monticello, so we have a new beer. I can’t wait to taste it!”

Saturday’s celebration runs from 9:30 to 1:30. It’s free, but visitors must register on Monticello’s website, and the event will be live streamed for those who can’t be there in person.

To learn more about the event, called "Ascendant: The Power of Descendant Communities to Shape Our Stories, Places, and Future," listen to Sandy's interview with Gayle Jessup White

Sandy Hausman talks with Gayle Jessup White
A spokesperson for Monticello and a descendant of Sally Hemmings

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief