The culmination of nearly two decades of historical research, Getting Word is a groundbreaking project that introduces the oral histories of the descendants of Monticello’s enslaved families to the public. Grounded in the incredible archive of audio and video collected by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, oral interviews are supplemented by research from newspapers, private papers, and public records. Focusing on the lives of existing Monticello descendants, the site aims to bring a human dimension to slavery and the struggle for equality for audiences both online and through kiosks in the on-site exhibition Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello, on view at the National Museum of American History through October 2012. Although launched in relation to the Smithsonian exhibition, the historical documentation provided on the website extends beyond the physical exhibition to offer an outstanding, evergreen resource for students, teachers, historians, and history enthusiasts of all kinds.
Since 1993, Getting Word staff have traveled over 40,000 miles to interview descendants all over the United States from Alabama to Ohio and Massachusetts to California. By the beginning of 2012 almost 180 people had contributed to the project by sharing their family stories, photographs and memorabilia. Thanks to these generous contributions, the project has been able to bring remarkable individuals out of the shadows of slavery, allowing the historians at the Thomas Jefferson Foundation to tell the stories of those whose lives and achievements were all but erased by two centuries of racism, discrimination, and public ignorance of their historical significance.
The website provides a means for visitors to access selected excerpts from the archive of the project’s oral history interviews, spanning thematically from antebellum slavery through the Civil War and Reconstruction to the Jim Crow decades and the civil rights movement. Featuring interview transcripts, photographs, interactive maps and historical documents, the website serves as an online repository enabling audiences to discover the families and individuals who continue to share stories that have been passed down across the generations.
Developed using the content management system Drupal, the Getting Word site enables Monticello historians to add and update website content and continue to share inspirational stories with audiences and enthusiasts, and align the website content with Monticello’s other websites.