Descendants of James Madison slaves to co-run presidential estate

The Montpelier Foundation

The board of directors in charge of former President Madison’s Montpelier estate voted this month to share governing power with Montpelier Descendants Committee (MDC), which is comprised of the descendants of the Black slaves who were owned by Madison.

The Montpelier Foundation (TMF) announced on June 19 that its board had voted to approve bylaws that would “achieve structural parity” with the MDC.

“More than 300 American men, women and children were enslaved at Montpelier and played vital roles throughout the founding era of our country. The true history of Montpelier cannot be known or shared without including the stories and perspectives of those who were enslaved,” James French, founder of the MDC and TMF board member, said in the announcement.

“This historic decision means that for the first time, the descendants of enslaved persons at a major national historic site will be co-equals in sharing governing power and responsibility for the very site that enslaved their ancestors,” chair of TMF Gene Hickok said.

Paul W. Edmondson, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation which owns Montpelier, celebrated the decision.

“By this action today, the Montpelier board of directors and the MDC have shown critical leadership in creating equitable governance of a site that is not only the ancestral home of James Madison but also of hundreds of people enslaved by the Madison family. The National Trust strongly supported this proposal, and we worked with both parties over the past year to achieve this new level of partnership,” Edmonson said.

In the past few years the Montpelier estate in Virginia, which now operates as a museum and historical site, has made efforts to acknowledge the history of the men and women who were enslaved on the property.

In 2017, a new exhibit named “The Mere Distinction of Colour” was opened that explored the lives that the slaves led on the property, seeking to rewrite the “Disney version” of the fourth U.S. President’s history.

“A lot of people come here because they’re inspired by the upstairs library where James Madison really conceived of what became the U.S. Constitution, and they come here to memorialize their respect for his ideas and his thought. But we also need to contend with Madison as a slave owner, and we also need to pay homage to the more than 300 people who were working here to make his life possible,” Giles Morris, vice president for marketing and communications at James Madison’s Montpelier, said at the time, according to WTOP.

Tags James Madison Madison family Montpelier National Register of Historic Places National Trust for Historic Preservation Virginia

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