Annette Gordon-Reed ’81 (Doctor of Humane Letters)

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At the 2021 commencement ceremony, Annette Gordon-Reed received an honorary degree from Dartmouth.

Annette Gordon-Reed
Photo by Eli Burakian ’00

ANNETTE GORDON-REED, as an award-winning historian, best-selling author, and distinguished professor and legal scholar, you’ve singlehandedly altered the scholarship on one of America’s Founding Fathers and brought forth the untold stories of generations of enslaved Blacks who played prominently in America’s past.

Always an avid reader, you were fascinated with biographical profiles of key figures in American history from the time you were a child, bonding with Thomas Jefferson over a shared love of books. After making history as the first African American to be integrated into an all-white East Texas elementary school, you arrived on the Dartmouth campus in 1977 aspiring to become a lawyer, and you did. But your passionate and persistent interest in Jefferson and, in particular, his connection to the enslaved Sally Hemings led you down a different path.

You challenged long-held assumptions that had shaded the truth from generations of previous scholars and, through exhaustive and meticulous research, pieced together a new narrative. Applying the critical thinking skills you honed as a history student at Dartmouth and the lawyerly analysis you perfected at Harvard Law, you not only helped prove that Jefferson fathered Hemings’s children, but illuminated the complexities of slavery in America.

From the 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family to the recently published On Juneteenth, your prolific and provocative writings on American history, law, politics and slavery have earned you our nation’s highest academic and literary honors, including the National Book Award, the National Humanities Medal, and a MacArthur “genius” grant, securing your place among the most consequential American historians of our time. 

You’ve made your alma mater proud as an exceptional scholar and educator and through your service as a trustee. And your extraordinary body of work stands as a testament to students and scholars everywhere that even the thinnest public record can produce enough of a trail to shine new and more fulsome light on history if one is bold enough and brave enough to follow it. For all of those reasons and more, it is our pleasure and privilege to award you the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.

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