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Randolph, Poplar Forest partner to host Relatives and Strangers programs

Gayle Jessup White

Gayle Jessup White

Americans take pride in their nation’s ethnic diversity, and it is impossible to imagine the United States without it. Yet simultaneously, America remains tormented by racial division, misunderstanding and alienation. Despite centuries of casual and intimate intermingling, white and black Americans are both relatives and strangers.

On November 3 and 4, Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest and Randolph College will partner to host two writers and educators who, starting with their own remarkable, intertwined stories, will lead audiences in an exploration of  the power, beauty, tragedy, and hope in America’s racial past, present and future.

Gayle Jessup White is a black Virginian, whose probable great-grandfather was Moncure Robinson Taylor, Thomas Jefferson’s great-great grandson. Tess Taylor is a white Californian, whose great-great-grandfather Moncure Taylor’s brother.

Strangers to each other until recently, they are cousins, sharing descent from Thomas Jefferson. Their personal journeys of discovery and identity have inevitably taken them into the heart of the American story, with a determination to face its realities and tell its truths—and in so doing, embrace its liberating possibilities. Wayne Gannaway, director of programs for Poplar Forest, will serve as the moderator.


November 3: Relatives & Strangers: America in Black & White

Reading and Discussion at Poplar Forest, 7-8:30 p.m.

Tess Taylor

Tess Taylor

Taylor and White will present a reading and discussion at Thomas Jefferson’s private retreat and tobacco plantation. During the presentation, they will reflect upon their interconnected pasts, and upon their relationship with the country that their illustrious slave-owning ancestor helped so mightily to create. Taylor will read from her acclaimed work of poetry, The Forage House, her meditation on her relationship with her ancestors and with the American past. A reception will follow.

Poplar Forest will offer its Enslaved Community Tour from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., followed by a wine and cheese reception from 6:30 until 7:00 p.m. A wine and cheese reception with the speakers will follow the talk. Admission to the event is $15 per person; reservations are required.


November 4: Relatives and Strangers: America in Black and White

Moderated Discussion at Randolph College’s Wimberly Recital Hall in Presser Hall, 7 p.m.

White and Taylor will continue the discussion of Americans’ shared but divided racial past, the shadow it casts on the present, and the prospects for a future of reconciliation and peace.  The two women will share their personal stories, and invite comments and insights from the audience. John d’Entremont, the Theodore H. Jack Professor of History at Randolph College, will serve as moderator.

Dessert reception to follow. Book sale in foyer. This event is free and open to the public.

For more information about either events, please visit www.randolphcollege.edu. To make reservations for the Nov. 3 event at Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, please call the Museum at 434-534-8120.


About Poplar Forest

One of only two homes Thomas Jefferson designed for his personal use, the Poplar Forest retreat was the place where Jefferson “came to indulge in the life of mind and renew his personal creativity.” Jefferson and his wife, Martha, inherited the Bedford County plantation known as Poplar Forest from her father in 1773. When his presidency ended in 1809, Jefferson visited the retreat three or four times a year, often staying for several months at a time during planting seasons.

Designated a National Historic Landmark by the Secretary of the Interior, and nearly lost to development, Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest plantation in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains was rescued in 1984 by a group of local citizens who sought to preserve it for the cultural and educational benefit of the public. Poplar Forest was opened to the public for the first time in 1986, in its “before restoration” state. Today, the neoclassical architecture of the octagonal house has been returned to Mr. Jefferson design. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has recognized the meticulous research and restoration efforts with its highest award, and the plantation has been nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A visit to Poplar Forest offers a unique opportunity to observe a “live” archaeological dig and historic restoration in progress, as efforts to reveal and restore Thomas Jefferson’s vision for his personal retreat continue.

Poplar Forest is open daily from March 16 through December 30 (closed on Easter, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day) from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (last tour leaving at 4:00 p.m.). Admission includes a guided house tour and self-guided grounds exhibits: $15 for adults; $13 for seniors (ages 65+); $13 for active military* (Must show ID); $7 for college students (Must show ID) and youth ages 12–18; $3 for youth ages 6–11; and free for children under age 6 and Poplar Forest members.

For more information about Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, visit poplarforest.org or call 434.525.1806.


About Randolph College

Located in Lynchburg, Virginia, Randolph College is a nationally recognized, private, liberal arts and sciences institution known for its excellent academic program, nationally ranked professors, rich traditions and close, diverse community.

Randolph features an innovative learning community where a classic liberal arts education intersects with practical preparation for a rapidly changing world. Founded in 1891 as Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, Randolph offers academic and co-curricular programs designed to challenge students to develop their intellectual and creative talents and pursue educational opportunities in and out of the college community.

The College’s motto, Vita abundantior (“the life more abundant”), expresses its historical emphasis on the importance of a quality liberal arts education to a rich, full life. To learn more see www.randolphcollege.edu.


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