Montpelier Board Abandons Promises to Descendants of EnslavedBreaking News
tags: slavery, James Madison, Montpelier, public history
Counsel for the Montpelier Descendants Committee released the following statement on March 25:
The Montpelier Descendants Committee and Montpelier’s professional staff are disappointed by the planned vote today by The Montpelier Foundation Board to retract their much-publicized and praised promise to share governance of President James Madison’s estate with descendants of the families whom Madison enslaved. The move comes after the board has refused to consider nominees proposed by the Montpelier Descendants Committee (MDC) to fill at least half of the board as per the terms of a bylaws change the board adopted on June 16, 2021.
MDC is a nonprofit organization that represents descendants of hundreds of people enslaved by the Madisons and their neighbors in the Virginia Piedmont. The Montpelier Foundation (TMF) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to stewarding and interpreting the 2,650-acre presidential plantation; it leases the site from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
MDC founding Chairman James French, who sits on TMF board, observed that “[j]ust a few years ago Montpelier was a pioneer in descendant engagement, but under new leadership TMF has treated descendants terribly. We’ve been used as a prop in a public performance to gain attention and money, while behind the scenes descendants and staff with whom we work well have been subject to racial animus and massive resistance. We will not be deterred from our mission to contribute to uniting the country by telling a more complete and truthful history of our founding, including the full role of its indispensable ‘invisible founders.’”
Montpelier staff allege CEO Roy Young has repeatedly threatened to terminate staff who support MDC, but today the majority of the estate’s full-time staff members issued a public statement calling on their employer to keep its commitment to the descendent community and change its abusive behavior toward Montpelier’s employees.
Nine months after the board pledged to share governance, only three MDC-nominated board members have been appointed to the board of sixteen members. Today the board is expected to pass a resolution enabling the current white-dominated board to decide on new members “representing the descendant community” instead of accepting recommendations from the descendants’ chosen representative organization, MDC.
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