Annette Gordon-Reed recently delivered a one-hour presentation to more than 150 professional staff and attorneys firmwide as part of Goodwin's Life Series program.
Annette was the first African-American to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for History in 2009, and she has also been awarded 15 other prizes, including the National Book Award for Nonfiction, the George Washington Book Prize and the Frederick Douglass Prize for her book, The Hemings of Monticello. In 2010, she received the National Humanities Medal and was named a MacArthur Fellow, also known as a "genius grant".
In her Life Series presentation, Annette talked about how she became interested in Sally Hemings while growing up in still-segregated east Texas. Her interest continued through college and law school, and while writing an op-ed on Hemings, she recognized how passionate she still was on the topic and decided to write a book. She used her legal training to organize her research and present a persuasive case that Sally Hemings had a relationship with Thomas Jefferson, and in 1997 her book, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, was published.
Annette was passionate about giving a voice to the descendents of Sally Hemings, who had been largely ignored and disregarded. Her book was very controversial because the liaison between Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson had been widely alleged and dismissed by archivists and historians. In 1998, DNA confirmed that Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson did in fact have a relationship and children together. In 2008, Annette authored another book, The Hemings of Monticello, which follows and illuminates the lives of the Hemings family.
To close her presentation, Annette took questions about her writing and research process, the reception of her books and the relationship between Jefferson and Hemings.
Annette Gordon-Reed received an A.B. (1981) from Dartmouth College and a J.D. (1984) from Harvard Law School. She spent her early career as an associate at Cahill Gordon & Reindel, and as Counsel to the New York City Board of Corrections. In 2010, she joined the faculty of Harvard Law School, with joint appointments as Professor of History in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. She was previously Wallace Stevens Professor of Law at New York Law School (1992–2010).