Harvard professor Annette Gordon-Reed, an expert on Thomas Jefferson and winner of the Pulitzer Prize in history for her work on Sally Hemings' family, delivered the McCorkle Lecture on Thursday at the University of Virginia School of Law. Her focus was on historic inequality.
In her lecture, titled "Black Citizenship, Law, and the Founding," Gordon-Reed discussed how blacks fit into American society by examining the nation’s founding when white citizens were seen as “original owners” of the United States and blacks as “the original outsiders.”
“Throughout the North and South, legal regimes sent a basic message about the nature of black citizenship. Where it existed, it was a second-class form or it did not exist st all in other locations,” she said. “Thus, in the law-minded America of the early republic, federal and state law codified white supremacy and notions of black inferiority at all levels of government and society."
Citing the current political climate, in which pre-Civil War regimes and ideologies continue to hold a lure for some Americans, Gordon-Reed said the United States has a “very long way to go before we successfully retire the image of an original or ‘lost’ America that gives some people greater claims to the country than others.”
Gordon-Reed won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for "The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family," a subject she had previously written about in "Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy." She is credited with changing the way Jefferson’s life is understood though her investigation into the relationship between the third president and Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman.
The McCorkle Lectureship was established in memory of Claiborne Ross McCorkle '10, by his widow, Hazel Webb McCorkle, and his son, George M. McCorkle.