Skip to content

Book Blog

“Reclamation: Sally Heming, Thomas Jefferson, and a Descendant’s Search for Her Family’s Lasting Legacy” by Gayle Jessup White

Gayle Jessup White went looking for her roots.  She had heard family comments about a Thomas Jefferson connection mentioned now and then over the years, but never was anything discussed in depth.  Some family members thought the family was related to the early US president and some did not believe it was so. 

 “Gayle Jessup White had long heard the stories passed down from her father’s family, that they were direct descendants of Thomas Jefferson – lore she firmly believed, though others did not.  For four decades the acclaimed journalist and genealogy enthusiast researched her connection to Thomas Jefferson, to confirm its truth once and for all.  After she was named a Jefferson Studies Fellow, Jessup White discovered her family lore was correct.  Poring through photos and documents and pursuing DNA evidence, she learned that not only was she a descendant of Jefferson on his father’s side; she was also the great-great-great-granddaughter of Peter Hemings, Sally Hemings’s brother.  In Reclamation, she chronicles her remarkable journey to definitively understand her heritage and reclaim it, and offers a compell-ing portrait of what it means to be a black woman in America, to pursue the American dream, to reconcile the legacy of racism, and to ensure the nation lives up to the ideals advocated by her legendary ancestor.”

Summary from HarperCollins Publisher LLC

Gayle, who spent her adult working life as a TV reporter and anchor, became interested in determining the truth behind the possibility of a blood connection to the former president.  Using her research skills and interest in history and genealogy, she followed leads to tease out the truth behind the possibility.  Then Gayle gets her “dream job” working for The Thomas Jefferson Foundation.  With increased access to information, she is finally able to confirm her ancestry with both the president who was an enslaver and his enslaved people who were also her ancestors.

Along the journey, as Gayle used historical artifacts, family lore and personal interviews to recreate her own families’ unique ancestral family trees, she had to consider the implications of belonging to two races tied together in an awful way during our country’s early history.  She discovered that Black history and American history are really one, and that it is time for Americans to accept and reconcile this past and the ramifications on its citizens for over 200 years. 

I feel this is an important book to read if you want to understand the history behind racism in our country, how it came about, and how it is entrenched in our lives to this day.