A President in the Family
The president is Thomas Jefferson, the family the Woodsons, putative descendants of Thomas Woodson, debatably one of Jefferson’s children by his slave Sally Hemings. This liaison caused scandal at the time, and again in 1974 when Fawn Brodie covered it in Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History. Plenty has been written about the children who bore the Hemings surname and their descendants, but not about Thomas Woodson and his. (He apparently became Woodson on being sold to a plantation of that name at age 12.) Byron Woodson contributed to DNA testing in 1997 and is forthright in his anger at what he sees as the reasons for its failure to prove that Jefferson fathered a Thomas Woodson. Here he attempts two things: to bolster the family’s long oral tradition of Jefferson ancestry with more solid proof, and to recount the family’s history to the present day. In the first he stretches the evidence too far and allows his DNA outrage too much rein. But it’s the second that proves to be the real strength of this very readable book: an inspiring story of triumph over disadvantage and prejudice featuring, among other memorable characters, an eminent black educator and founder of black nationalism.