Pixel Tracker

Monday, November 19 , 2018, 12:59 pm | Partly Cloudy with Haze 65º


Jamie Stiehm: Harvey Weinstein’s Hollywood Story as Old as Washington, the Old South

Hollywood was shocked (shocked!) at the story pyramid revealing Harvey Weinstein’s violent passes at younger women.

(Why wait 20 years, superstars Angelina, Gwyneth and boyfriend Brad?)

Hear the echoes of Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas and, telescoping time, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. Did the champion of liberty coerce his subjugated slave mistress? You tell me. But there’s a twist to that tale.

The free-fall from movie pharaoh to industry pariah brought a breeze of vindication. Weinstein’s life crumbled in such cinematic style that a plot point was born: a flood named #MeToo. The hashtag sprang up for legions of women who vividly reported sexual assault and harassment. They voiced their experiences online, breaking silences on social media.

This is not new, and white Hollywood stars are far from the only victims.

Speaking out is freeing. The volume from Everywoman showed sexual harassment happens all the time. Hollywood came clean on its dirty open secret, just how sordid Weinstein was with women.

Social movements cannot live on ether alone. Gathering force, women can hew new lines for their safety.

Since President Donald Trump has bragged about sexual assault, women should plan to protect each other in the workplace — and that includes the White House. The energy need not stop there; it can seize on other outrages in the age of Trump.

Back in 1991, Hill’s sworn testimony was not believed by 52 senators, 26 Octobers ago. The Senate hearings riveted the nation. Hill’s specific allegations of Thomas’ sexual harassment when he was her boss were so graphic and embarrassing that Thomas fled the room — he couldn’t take the heat.

Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah; Alan Simpson, R-Wyo.; and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., acted like witches. Thunder, lightning and rain, I called them from my San Francisco fog.

A U.S. Supreme Court seat was at stake. There were two women senators. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W. Va., stood and declared Hill told the truth. The vote was a sea of ties: 52 to 48 to confirm arch-conservative Thomas.

Had the drama gone the other way, I’m sure society would be in a different place. The vote sent a chilling message to a woman’s word against a powerful man.

In Jefferson’s Virginia, enslaved women were at the mercy of their master. Their bodies were legally his property. That was the way of the plantation world. “Planters” had slave mistresses all the time. Everybody knew, few talked. That’s how slavery grew so fast, by natural increase.

Women and girl slaves were always in the workplace — morning, noon and night. A master’s move to claim them was inescapable. And they had no way to voice their victimization. They couldn’t read, write or tweet. They are lost to history, mostly, save one.

Hemings’ life has come to light since 1999. There are shades of gray in the Hemings-Jefferson bond of 38 years. Jefferson’s wife, Martha, died young, leaving him devastated with two daughters. He took Sally to France, where he was the U.S. ambassador, to take care of the girls.

And there the thing began. Sally was in her teens, Jefferson in his 40s. As the French say, droit de seigneur. The master’s right. Jefferson historians took forever and a day to handle the bombshell truth.

Here goes: Sally and Martha were half-sisters. They had the same white father, whose slave concubine was Sally’s mother. You see, Sally was Martha’s slave, her own flesh and blood.

Hemings had a rare choice: Stay a free woman in Paris or return to Virginia a slave. Jefferson pleaded that she’d have a good life in the great house, Monticello. He promised to free their children at 21. (He did.)

Hemings had four children by Jefferson. DNA results told us so. One strikingly resembled his father, visitors noted. Madison Hemings was so named because Dolley Madison pressed a pregnant Sally to name a son after her husband, James.

Madison, a carpenter, wrote a memoir of Monticello and his “stately” father in an Ohio newspaper. His brother, Eston, played the violin, like his father, and went west to Wisconsin. Some light-skinned Hemings-Jefferson descendants crossed the color line.

Let’s keep working to change the tragic chorus: It happens all the time.

Jamie Stiehm writes about politics, culture and history as a weekly Creators Syndicate columnist and regular contributor to U.S. News & World Report. Follow her on Twitter: @jamiestiehm. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >