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Release: March 2, 2000

Hemings, Jefferson descendants discuss race relations in America March 7

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Shay Banks-Young and Julia Westerinen will share their views about race in America and the legacy of their respective forebears, Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson, when they visit the University of Iowa Tuesday, March 7 for a 7:30 p.m. talk at the Main Lounge of the Iowa Memorial Union.

At a UI Lecture Committee sponsored event, Banks-Young and Westerinen will present a free and public lecture, "The Affairs of Race in America: A Conversation in Black and White."

In 1998 DNA researchers concluded what many already believed about Jefferson and his commonly known slave and mistress, Sally Hemings: that the third U.S. president was the father of Hemings' youngest son, Eston. The journal Nature first reported the findings in November 1998, which afterward, saw a bevy of national news reports on the pair's relationship.

Banks-Young and Julia Westerinen said in a publicist's statement that while the researchers' findings was "shocking news for many historians, who for years had denied the possibility that Jefferson was capable of such 'immoral' behavior," it was not shocking to them nor their families.

They said their families have always been confident that their respective great-great-grandfathers, Madison and Eston, were in fact, the sons of Jefferson and Hemings.

"The proof of this relationship, which seems to have lasted 38 years, leaves us with a great number of questions about race relations in the United States. It also raises certain ironic questions in light of the recent scandals involving the current resident of the White House," they said in the statement.

Julia Westerinen, Eston Hemings' great-great-granddaughter, is a former educator turned businesswoman who lives in Staten Island, N.Y. Banks-Young is a health trainer and poet who has hosted her own public affairs talk show. She lives in Columbus, Ohio. Since the discovery, they’ve taken to the road, appearing together and separately on various shows, including "The Oprah Winfrey Show," and "BET Tonight" with Tavis Smiley. In magazines "Time" and "U.S. News and World Report" they've talked about the researchers' findings and have engaged many in dialogues about race relations in the U.S. The magazine "Cosmopolitan" in 1999 named Banks-Young one of that year's "Fun, Fearless Females" for her community-building efforts.

Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all University of Iowa-sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires an accommodation in order to participate in this program, please contact the UI Lecture Committee at (319) 335-3255.