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Gathering Of Presidential Lineage Celebrates U.S. History


Descendents of famous American political figures, both Democrats and Republicans, white and black, coming together in a small Ozarks town this weekend. The Missouri Cherry Blossom Festival in Marshfield is hosting the descendents of more than 30 past presidents, including relatives of the country's founding fathers and one of the country's most famous slaves.

From member station KSMU, Jennifer Davidson reports.

JENNIFER DAVIDSON, BYLINE: As a thunderstorm brews outside Blackberry Creek Bed and Breakfast, the direct descendents of Thomas Jefferson and Harry Truman are sitting down to a hearty innkeeper's breakfast with George Washington's great-nephew.

CHRIS TRUSCOTT: Thomas Jefferson is my great, great, great and several more greats grandfather.

DAVIDSON: That's Chris Truscott. He shares Jefferson's love of the written word. He's a corporate speechwriter. At the breakfast table is Tom Washington, who comes here very year from Texas. The first time Tom Washington was invited by the festival's organizer he was a bit skeptical.

TOM WASHINGTON: I said he wants to what? I'm supposed to go to this small town in the Ozarks for a Cherry Blossom Festival. Is this for real?

DAVIDSON: Despite his famous relatives warning against party politics, Washington works for the Republican Party in Texas. He jokes that the Adams are still as liberal as ever. Relatives of Presidents Madison, Monroe, Nixon, Cleveland and both Roosevelts have all been here. Over at the Marshville High School, Nicholas Inman is greeting guests.

He's a young minister who, after living in D.C., felt torn between the nation's capital and his hometown. He's organized the planting of 100s of cherry trees in Marshfield to remind him of the pink blooms that Washington is famous for.

NICHOLAS INMAN: I love history and I felt like people need to learn history from primary sources and so we needed a festival to go around those trees.

DAVIDSON: The festival has united some unlikely pairs. Bertram Hayes Davis is the great-great-grandson of Jefferson Davis and is now friends with Lynn Jackson. She's a descendent of Dred Scott, a slave who famously sued for his freedom. As Davis says, his ancestor had a distinguished career before the Civil War.

BERTRAM HAYES DAVIS: Hero of the war of 1847, secretary of war and senator, and so people don't understand that Jefferson Davis was an American patriot for the first 52 years of his life before he was appointed, not elected, to the presidency of the Confederacy.

DAVIDSON: Lynn Jackson oversees the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation in St. Louis.

LYNN SCOTT: In coming together and sharing, you know, how do you feel being the descendent of a slave? How do you feel being the descendent of a Confederate president? And we find some common ground here.

DAVIDSON: Back at the bed and breakfast, over a steaming cup of coffee, Thomas Jefferson's descendent, Chris Truscott, reflects on how the festival has changed his life. When attending the festival two years ago, he fell in love with the editor of the Marshfield newspaper. He relocated, the two married, and they're expecting a baby this summer.

He says people tell him his facial features strongly resemble Jefferson's straight pointed nose and square jaw.

TRUSCOTT: I don't know if it's true, but people say it. I think there's a - I think to an extent people want to believe it.

DAVIDSON: His father is buried at Monticello, where he's also eligible for a plot one day. But Truscott says he'll be buried wherever home is when he dies, and that very well could be among the cherry trees that grace this little sliver of the Louisiana Purchase. For NPR News, I'm Jennifer Davidson.


SIMON: And later this hour, coming up in time for Broadway's annual honors, the Tony Awards will look ahead at the season's theater hits and misses with Barbara Chai of the Wall Street Journal. And as always, we invite you to join us on Twitter. We're at NPR WEEKEND, and I'm at NPRScottSimon, all one word.


SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jennifer works as a reporter, producer and student trainer for KSMU in Springfield, Mo. She grew up on a farm just outside West Plains, Mo., and now works forKSMUfrom her hometown.