Annette Gordon-Reed

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Annette Gordon-Reed
Annette Gordon Reed NBCC 2011 Shankbone.jpg
Gordon-Reed in 2011
Annette Gordon

(1958-11-19) November 19, 1958 (age 63)
Alma materDartmouth College (BA)
Harvard Law School (JD)
OccupationProfessor, author, historian
EmployerHarvard Law School
Harvard University
Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study
Known forAmerican Legal History, American Slavery and the Law
Spouse(s)Robert Reed
AwardsNational Book Award for Nonfiction, MacArthur Fellowship, Pulitzer Prize for History

Annette Gordon-Reed (born November 19, 1958)[1] is an American historian and law professor. She is currently the Carl M. Loeb University Professor at Harvard University and a professor of history in the university's Faculty of Arts & Sciences. She is formerly the Charles Warren Professor of American Legal History at Harvard University and the Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Gordon-Reed is noted for changing scholarship on Thomas Jefferson regarding his relationship with Sally Hemings and her children.

She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for History and the National Book Award for Nonfiction and 15 other prizes in 2009 for her work on the Hemings family of Monticello. In 2010, she received the National Humanities Medal and a MacArthur Fellowship.[2] Since 2018, she has served as a trustee of the National Humanities Center in Research Triangle Park, NC. She was elected a Member of the American Philosophical Society in 2019. She is a Trustee of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.[3]

Background and education

Gordon-Reed was born in Livingston, Texas, to Bettye Jean Gordon and Alfred Gordon. She grew up in Jim Crow Conroe, Texas and was the first black child in her elementary school.[4] In third grade she became interested in Thomas Jefferson. She graduated from Dartmouth College in 1981 and Harvard Law School in 1984, where she was a member of the Harvard Law Review.[5]

Marriage and family

Gordon-Reed is married to Robert R. Reed, a justice of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, 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.[6]

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).[7]

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. In 2012, she was appointed the Charles Warren Professor of American Legal History at HLS. In 2014, she was the Harold Vyvyan Harmsworth Visiting Professor at Queen's College, University of Oxford.

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 considerable interest from fellow scholars, as it investigated and analyzed 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 the denials of Jefferson descendants and their assertion that the late Peter Carr (a married nephew of Jefferson) was the father. Biographer James Parton adopted this alternative account to rumors about Jefferson's paternity, as did 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 the numerous interracial liaisons in Jefferson's time. In 1974, 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 analyzed the historiography and identified the set of unexamined assumptions that had governed the investigations by many Jefferson scholars. 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 against such primary sources as Jefferson's papers and agricultural records. She demonstrated errors made by historians, and noted facts overlooked by the white Jefferson descendants and historians, which contradicted their assertions that one or more of Jefferson's Carr nephews had fathered the children.

As the historian Winthrop Jordan had noted, which was also noted by Brodie, historian Dumas Malone's extensive documentation of Jefferson's travels showed that Jefferson was at Monticello during the period of time when Hemings conceived each of her known children, and that she never conceived when he was not there. Gordon-Reed noted that all of Sally Hemings' children were freed. They were the only slave family to gain such freedom, which was consistent with what Madison said Jefferson had promised to his mother, Sally Hemings. Gordon-Reed concluded that Jefferson and Hemings did have a sexual relationship, though she did not try to characterize it.[8] Reprinted in 1999, her new edition of the book has a foreword incorporating the 1998 DNA study.

External video
video icon Booknotes interview with Gordon-Reed on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, February 21, 1999, C-SPAN[9]


Gordon-Reed "drew on her legal training to apply context and reasonable interpretation to the sparse documentation" and analyzed the historiography as well.[7] The writer Christopher Hitchens in Slate described her analysis as "brilliant."

Critics such as John Works and Robert F. Turner of the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society have pointed out several transcription errors in Gordon-Reed's first book. Although Gordon-Reed said the errors were a "mistake," Works and Turner have alleged them to be alterations of historical documents.[10]

Gordon-Reed's study stimulated a revival of interest in this topic. In 1998 a Y-DNA study was conducted of direct male descendants of the Jefferson male line, Eston Hemings line, and Carrs, as this DNA is passed down virtually unchanged. There was a Y-DNA match between the Jefferson male line and a male descendant of Eston Hemings. Researchers noted that, when added to the body of historical evidence, this strongly suggested Thomas Jefferson was the father of the children.[11] In addition, the DNA analysis conclusively excluded descendants of the Carr line as a match for the Hemings descendant. Neither of the Carr nephews could have been the father of Hemings's children. The findings received national attention, with PBS devoting a lengthy program to the issues. They have stimulated new scholarship. Major groups and historians have 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 Hemings's children.[12]

The William and Mary Quarterly devoted an issue to the topic in 2001. However, there are historians who disagree; the newly formed Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society commissioned an independent report and scholars associated with it have continued to argue against the consensus.<> In June 2018, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation mounted a new exhibit at Monticello, The Life of Sally Hemings, which affirms that Jefferson fathered her children. This follows a major traveling exhibit in 2012 on Jefferson as a slaveholder and accounts of several major slave families at Monticello, including the Hemingses.[citation needed]

Vernon Can Read! (2001)

This memoir of Vernon Jordan, the civil rights activist, written with him, portrayed 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.[13]

The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (2008)

In 2008 Gordon-Reed published The Hemingses of Monticello, 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[14][15] and 15 additional awards.[16]

Andrew Johnson (2011)

In 2011, Gordon-Reed published a biography of the US post-Civil War president Andrew Johnson and his historical reputation. She notes that he did not favor integration of 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.[17]

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.[17]

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.[14][15][18] She won 15 additional awards for the book.[16][19][20]

  • On February 25, 2010, President Barack Obama honored Annette Gordon-Reed with the National Humanities Medal, the highest national honor for the arts and humanities.[27]
  • On September 28, 2010, Gordon-Reed was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship.[28] The Foundation noted that her "persistent investigation into the life of an iconic American president has dramatically changed the course of Jeffersonian scholarship."[7]

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.[13]

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 Hemings, as well as issues that American black women face today.[29]

  • On July 28, 2020, she was named a University Professor, Harvard University's highest faculty honor. Claudine Gay, the Edgerley Family Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Wilbur A. Cowett Professor of Government and of African and African-American Studies, said, “This is a wonderful recognition of Annette’s seminal contributions to our understanding of American history, including our most harrowing tragedies and painful contradictions. She reminds us of the transformative power of academic discovery. I am thrilled by this appointment.” [30]


Bibliography (books only)


  1. ^ Jennie Yabroff (October 4, 2008). "Annette Gordon-Reed on the Sally Hemings Saga". Newsweek. Retrieved September 11, 2010.
  2. ^ "Professor Annette Gordon-Reed '84 wins a MacArthur Fellowship (audio)". Harvard Law Today.
  3. ^ "Board of Trustees and Officers | Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History".
  4. ^ EVANS, SUMMER (June 18, 2021). "Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author Annette Gordon-Reed's New Book, 'On Juneteenth' Examines The Holiday Through A Personal Lens". WABE-FM. Atlanta, Georgia. Retrieved July 21, 2021. born in Livingston, Texas, which was segregated, and then when I was about six months old, moved to Conroe, Texas, where I grew up. I had the experience as a six-year-old of integrating our town’s schools,
  5. ^ "Annette Gordon-Reed '84 to join the Harvard faculty". Recent News and Spotlights, April 30, 2010. Harvard Law School.
  6. ^ "Only a Brief Pause for Rest", New York Times, 28 June 2009
  7. ^ a b c "Annette Gordon-Reed", MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved 2011-02-09.
  8. ^ "Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy". cnn. March 3, 1999. Retrieved December 15, 2014.
  9. ^ "Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings". C-SPAN. February 21, 1999. Retrieved March 14, 2017.
  10. ^ "The Dialogue Between John Works and Annette Gordon-Reed and the Dean of New York Law School". Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society.
  11. ^ "Annette Gordon-Reed: Rutgers-Newark Appoints Nationally Renowned Presidential Scholar to Faculty", History News Network. Retrieved 2011-02-09.
  12. ^ National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 89, No. 3, September 2001, p. 207
  13. ^ a b "Annette Gordon-Reed '84 to join the Harvard faculty". April 30, 2010. Retrieved September 11, 2010.
  14. ^ a b c "Rutgers-Newark prof Annette Gordon-Reed wins Pulitzer Prize"
  15. ^ a b "History". Past winners & finalists by category. The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2016-10-20.
  16. ^ a b Jennie Yabroff, "A Lawyer's New Jefferson Memorial: The next chapter in the Hemings saga", Newsweek On Conversations With Allan Wolper Archived 2014-10-10 at the Wayback Machine (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.
  17. ^ a b Interview with Annette Gordon-Reed, Tavis Smiley show, 28 February 2011
  18. ^ Michael Bandler, "Pulitzer Prize for Drama Honors Play about Women in Wartime Congo: Biography, Fiction, History, Music, Nonfiction, Poetry Winners Also Named" Archived February 7, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ Hoffert, Barbara. "2008 NBCC Finalists Announced]". Archived from the original on June 1, 2009. Retrieved October 9, 2009.
  20. ^ Columbia University Archived June 23, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ "National Book Awards – 2008". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-24.
    (With acceptance speech by Gordon-Reed and interview.)
  22. ^ "2009 George Washington Book Prize Awarded at Mount Vernon"
  23. ^ "Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards :: 2006 Winners". Archived from the original on August 23, 2010. Retrieved September 11, 2010.
  24. ^ "Awards – NJCH Annual Book Award". NJCH. Archived from the original on November 25, 2010. Retrieved September 11, 2010.
  25. ^ "New York Law School Professor Wins $25,000 Frederick Douglass Book Prize". Archived from the original on March 29, 2010. Retrieved October 9, 2009.
  26. ^ a b "Library of Virginia Literary Award | W. W. Norton & Company". Retrieved September 11, 2010.
  27. ^ "Obama honors leaders in arts and humanities". February 26, 2010. Retrieved September 11, 2010.
  28. ^ "Annette Gordon-Reed", NPR
  30. ^ "Annette Gordon-Reed named Harvard University Professor". July 28, 2020.
  31. ^ "The British Academy elects 84 new Fellows recognising outstanding achievement in the humanities and social sciences". The British Academy. July 23, 2021. Archived from the original on July 23, 2021. Retrieved January 22, 2022.
  32. ^

External links

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