Home Monticello receives $3.5 million grant to collect, share stories of enslaved families

Monticello receives $3.5 million grant to collect, share stories of enslaved families

Crystal Graham
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The Mellon Foundation recently awarded $3.5 million to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello to expand an African American oral history project.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site’s pioneering Getting Word project was established in 1993. It is a decades-long initiative to collect and share the stories of Monticello’s enslaved community and their descendants.

This transformational, multi-year donation from the Mellon Foundation represents an unprecedented investment in the project.

“The Mellon Foundation’s confidence in our boundless efforts to research, share, and rightfully acknowledge the history of Monticello’s enslaved community recognizes the Thomas Jefferson Foundation as a model in this important work,” said Gardiner Hallock, interim president of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. “We are deeply appreciative of Mellon’s support, which will propel the Getting Word project forward and build upon the remarkable contributions of former and current staff as well as the hundreds of descendants of Monticello’s enslaved families who have generously shared their families’ oral histories with us over the past 30 years.”

Support from the Mellon Foundation’s “Monuments Project” program will launch the second generation of Getting Word with the capacity for national impact and international awareness, creating a model for other sites seeking to engage descendant communities in meaningful ways.

The grant allows the Thomas Jefferson Foundation to hire program staff, robustly engage with project advisors, reach out to descendant communities nationwide, invite the public to bring history forward into national and global dialogues, and create a digital archive of documentary references to enslaved people.

Ultimately, this support will enable Getting Word staff to conduct more than 275 oral histories with descendants of Monticello’s enslaved families over the next four years, doubling the number of oral histories collected over the last 30 years of the project.

“We are inspired by the Mellon Foundation’s grant to Getting Word,” said Andrew M. Davenport, public historian and director of Getting Word. “This is an unprecedented opportunity to build upon the project’s mission to collect and preserve family histories from the eras of slavery and abolition to the present. Through archival research and collaboration with descendants, Getting Word historians have reconnected families riven apart by slavery and its aftermath. The project, as an archive and as a community, has helped to recontextualize Monticello as a Black heritage site of reflection, remembrance, and reunion. The Getting Word archive and the community are inextricably interwoven, and Mellon’s support will propel the project into its next generation.”

The Monuments Project is an unparalleled $250 million commitment by the Mellon Foundation to transform the nation’s commemorative landscape by supporting public projects that more completely and accurately represent the multiplicity and complexity of American stories.

Launched in 2020, the Monuments Project builds on the Mellon Foundation’s efforts to express, elevate, and preserve the stories of those who have often been denied historical recognition, and explores how we might foster a more complete telling of who we are as a nation.

For information, visit monticello.org.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.