Montpelier makes history as first historic site to create bylaws for equity

Published: Jun. 28, 2021 at 3:43 PM EDT

ORANGE COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - Montpelier is setting the standard for historical sites all around the country by creating a path forward towards equity for the Montpelier Descendants Committee and the Montpelier Board.

“There are 250 souls behind me in this sacred ground,” Montpelier Descendants Committee Chair James French said referring to the slave cemetery on the grounds of the President James Madison home. “Our group represents their legacy and we seek to restore their humanity and the telling of history, bring them to the center of how history is interpreted.”

French says tough conversations for over a year have now led to bylaws aimed at creating parity between the descendent community and Montpelier.

“If party A is now being represented that was not represented before, party B doesn’t lose anything,” he said. “We’re making room for both perspectives, because both perspectives constitute the truth, and we’re trying to arrive at a fuller, more complex truth that will be more educational.”

Roy Young is the president of the Montpelier Foundation. He says these bylaws create equality on the Montpelier Board.

“That means that the descendants that are members of our board are full board members in every way, and will serve the Montpelier Foundation and the history and legacy of their ancestors,” Young said.

Rebecca Coleman is a member of the Montpelier Descendants Committee. She says she proud of this decision.

“I just feel so blessed that we have now a board who hopefully will be able to tell the complete and true story of American history, not only at Montpelier but this is all a part of American history,” Coleman said.

Her great great grandfather built a cabin at Montpelier.

“We have deep roots at Montpelier and I feel like once I discovered that was where my ancestors were enslaved, my whole life took on a new meaning and I had a feeling that now I begin to know who I am,” Coleman said.

By creating these bylaws, Montpelier is paving a way for other historical sites to follow suit.

“It’s really a model for how to resolve conflict, how to find common ground, and how to really fully represent full history, not just in the telling of history, but in the writing of our history as a historic site,” Young said.

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