The Montpelier Foundation votes to share oversight of James Madison’s home with descendants of slaves

The foundation that oversees the Montpelier estate of James Madison in Virginia has voted to equally share governing powers with the descendants of African Americans who were enslaved on the property.

The Montpelier Foundation voted Wednesday to enact bylaws that would give the Montpelier Descendants Committee equal responsibility and power over the site of Madison’s plantation home in Orange County, Virginia.

Madison was the United States’ fourth president and is known as the father of the Constitution.

The vote marks the first time descendants of slaves will co-oversee a major national historic site where their ancestors were once enslaved, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

James French, the founding chair of the Montpelier Descendants Committee and board member of The Montpelier Foundation, said more than 300 people were once enslaved on the grounds.

“The true history of Montpelier cannot be known or shared without including the stories and perspectives of those who were enslaved,” French said in a statement about the vote.

The vote comes the same week President Joe Biden and Congress designated Juneteenth a federal holiday. Juneteenth, observed on June 19, commemorates the day when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas — more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.

Montpelier is open to visitors and student groups for tours and educational events.

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