On the Horizon

A New Dawn

Nowhere in our country’s history is the paradox between freedom and slavery more present in a single space than James Madison’s Montpelier, the estate where the then-President conceived of the Constitution, building an ideal of freedom while enslaving over 300 men, women, and children.

OUR WORK

The Montpelier Descendants Committee is the nation’s first independent, descendent-led organization to be associated with a major historic site. The Committee was founded to tell a more inclusive and complete American story at Montpelier and museums and historic sites throughout the country.

WHAT’S NEXT

In June 2021 The Montpelier Descendants Committee won structural parity with the Montpelier Foundation board to act as equal stewards to the historic estate. Now acknowledged as an equal, autonomous representative of the interests of Montpelier at all levels of the organization, the next step is for the MDC to name half of the Montpelier Foundation Board. 

‘Structural Parity’ in Unprecedented Board Restructuring

James Madison’s Montpelier

James Madison’s Montpelier votes to share power with descendants of enslaved people

CBS 42

James Madison’s Montpelier shares power with enslaved people’s descendants

Richmond Times Dispatch

We are reaching out to the most respected, thoughtful and committed people across the country, and beyond, to join us in reshaping an iconic American institution. 

In July 2021 the MDC was awarded funding through The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund grant. This grant will support the Arc of Enslaved Communities project, in which MDC will create an expansive national trail that captures and codifies the impact enslaved communities had on the founding of our country.

OUR APPROACH

The Montpelier Descendants Committee’s power-sharing model can be followed by historic institutions, museums, and other public and private entities, from presidential homes to universities to Silicon Valley. We began with a critical insight: institutional power is not a finite resource. By sitting down as equals, it is possible to generate more relevance and power for allWe offer a critical model for breaking down legacy institutional power imbalances while centering the voices who have been directly impacted by the inequalities perpetuated by our nation’s founding. 

The Committee moves the perspectives of descendants of the enslaved from the periphery to the center, establishing a broader, richer, and more truthful interpretation of history with wider audiences, following the Rubric for Engaging Descendant Communities developed in partnership with the National Trust and Montpelier Foundation.

The Rubric offers historic institutions a place to start addressing difficult themes and the traumatic legacies of slavery. One of the most important aspects of The Rubric is that it insists sites work with descendants of the enslaved as partners and advisors at every step to ensure they are interpreting slavery in a manner that is effective, informative, and respectful of the experiences of the enslaved.

This rubric provides a generative power-sharing model that builds more power, rather than divides it, providing a way forward for institutions across the U.S.

JOIN US

We are actively seeking board members to guide us in building a platform for telling more truthful and complete history, reconciliation and memorialization. We seek a world-class board comprised of leading voices from worlds of culture, academia, activists, and descendants community.