Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty – Educational Resources

Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty is an exhibition that uses Monticello, the home and plantation of Thomas Jefferson, to explore the dilemma of slavery and the lives of the enslaved families and their descendants. The exhibition presents Monticello as a microcosm of the American story – a lens through which to understand the complicated dynamics of our founding, and the ways in which the legacies of slavery continue to shape our nation. Thomas Jefferson’s iconic words in the Declaration of Independence—“all men are created equal”—inaugurated a new nation defined by principles of freedom and self-government, while a fifth of the population remained enslaved. Jefferson called slavery “an abominable crime,” yet he owned 607 people over the course of his lifetime. This exhibition uses the power of place and ideas at Monticello to grapple with the paradox of slavery in an age of liberty. Most notably, Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello brings individuals and families out of the shadows of chattel slavery, pulling from more than 50 years of archaeology, documentary research, and oral histories to fill in the critical human dimension missing from many resources on slavery in the United States. Through the exhibition, visitors “meet” members of six families who lived and labored at Monticello, as well as their descendants. Their family stories form a narrative arc from slavery to freedom that reflects the trajectory of the nation at large – our ongoing journey to realize the foundational promise that “all men are created equal.”

In addition to the exhibition, a traveling panel exhibit is available to schools across the United States. It consists of eleven freestanding panels, approximately 33″ wide by 88″ high. The exhibit is available for a one-month load period, at no cost to hosting schools. Click here for more information.


First person recollections of life from individuals who were enslaved at Monticello:

Recommended books:

  1. My Name is James Madison Hemings by Jonah Winter
  2. Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
  3. Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything by Maira Kalman

Lesson plans: