Black descendant of Thomas Jefferson recreates image of complicated ancestor for photo shoot

Shannon LaNier says America must make sure no one is excluded from the dreams his president of an ancestor had

TV news anchor Shannon LaNier (right) posses to recreate a depiction of former U.S. President Thomas Jefferson, LaNier’s great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather for a new piece in the Smithsonian Magazine. (Drew Gardner/Smithsonian Magazine)

A Black descendant of a founding father and early president of the United States dressed as his ancestor for a photo shoot published in the newest edition of Smithsonian Magazine.

Shannon LaNier posed for an image that has been published alongside that of his great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson is credited with writing the Declaration of Independence, which led to the country’s founding in 1776, and later served as the third U.S. president.

LaNier descends from former slave Sally Hemings, who was raped by her owner, Jefferson. LaNier, who is a TV news anchor in Houston, Texas, is a ninth-generation descendant of Hemings and Jefferson.

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A 1998 DNA test showed that LaNier and Jefferson are related, according to The New York Times.

He posted both photos on his Instagram page, stating that this article is is helping hold a mirror’ to the country. He continued by writing that Jefferson “not only took part in creating this country but also it’s people… black, white, brown, yellow & red!”

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The photo shoot was a part of a Smithsonian Magazine piece titled “American Descendants” in which photographer Drew Gardner recreates photos of famous Americans. Gardner also gathered descendants of 19th-century abolitionist Frederick Douglass and suffragist leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton to recreate their images.

The descendants dressed up in identical outfits, wigs and make-up to match photos of their ancestors, which are placed side-by-side in the publication.

LaNier, however, opted not to wear a wig during his shoot. He did the shoot to illustrate the paradox of Jefferson’s legacy.

“I didn’t want to become Jefferson,” LaNier said in the article. “My ancestor had his dreams — and now it’s up to all of us living in America today to make sure no one is excluded from the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

LaNier co-wrote a book about his family’s complex lineage called Jefferson’s Children: The Story of One American Family that was published in 2000.

“He was a brilliant man who preached equality, but he didn’t practice it,” LaNier told NBC News. “He owned people. And now I’m here because of it.”

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