T.D. Jakes reflects on his roots at African American Museum

MICHAEL H. COTTMAN | 12/1/2018, 2:15 p.m.
Inside a provocative exhibit about Thomas Jefferson and slavery, Bishop T.D. Jakes was reminded of his own enslaved ancestors.
Bishop T.D. Jakes, the honorary chair for the Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty exhibit, speaks during the opening reception, Sept. 21. Thomas Jefferson

Urban News Service

Inside a provocative exhibit about Thomas Jefferson and slavery, Bishop T.D. Jakes was reminded of his own enslaved ancestors.

Jakes, who has visited Africa many times, proudly talked about his Nigerian roots. He said Dr. Henry Louis Gates, a professor of African and African American research at Harvard University, arranged a DNA test that confirmed Jakes’ ancestors were from Nigeria.

“Going back there recently, I went into an area that was predominantly Ibo, and it was kind of emotional to me,” Jakes said. “Because they made presentations to me – my house is decorated with a lot of African art – and they were telling me this is what your language sounds like.”

Jakes said he has a vivid recollection of his great-grandmother who was once enslaved. He was just 10 years old but said he remembers listening to his great-grandmother talk about slavery and his family’s history.

“And I think of how so many people look at Africa and they talk about poverty, but when I looked at it, I thought they are so rich in ways that we are poor.” Jakes said. “They know who they are; they know whose they are; they know where they came from; they proudly understand their languages; and in that way, we are very poor, and so there needs to be a greater exchange between us as people. Because for me, it was like regaining a part of myself that was lost.”

Jakes is the honorary co-chair of a new traveling exhibit, Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty, which opened Sept. 22 at the African American Museum and due to popular demand has been extended through Jan. 21, 2019, closing on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The exhibit, which premiered at Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, breaks new ground by focusing in more detail on the life of Sally Hemings, who was enslaved with an estimated 400 other men, women and children on Jefferson’s 5000-acre Monticello plantation. The exhibit showcases more than 300 artifacts.

Some of the artifacts that appear in the exhibit include nails made at the nailery, which was run by the enslaved families and became an extremely profitable industry for Jefferson; a tombstone of Priscilla Hemmings that was hand carved by her husband, Michael Hemmings; and china and pottery purchased by the enslaved families at the market.

Some of Jefferson’s items on display include a finely carved chess set, his eyeglasses and his bookstand. Also, a medicine bottle from Paris that may have been brought back by Sally Hemings during her time in France; a portion of a black pot – Jefferson encouraged his slaves to marry and gave them a black pot as a wedding gift; and an arm chair used in the house that is believed to have been made by John Hemings, a gifted furniture maker.

Dallas is the first city to host the exhibit that will feature additional objects that have never left Monticello. Other stops for the exhibit include Detroit, Richmond and the West Coast in 2019.