Reversal on Power-Sharing Shows Montpelier Really Wants to Stop Talking About SlaveryBreaking News
tags: slavery, historic preservation, James Madison, Montpelier, public history
Montpelier, the estate of James Madison, has gone from being the toast of the museum world to being, well, just plain toast.
In March, the Montpelier Foundation board reneged on a June 2021 restructuring that gave descendants of the enslaved there “structural parity” on its board — a reversal criticized by Montpelier staff who had spent decades partnering with the descendant community in excavating the estate’s history of enslavement.
And starting last week, Montpelier Foundation CEO Roy Young terminated or suspended members of its staff, including the firings of executive vice president and chief curator Elizabeth Chew, director of archeology Matt Reeves and spokeswoman Christy Moriarty.
Chew and Reeves learned of their dismissals Monday via their personal email while vacationing.
A much-lauded promise to share power equally with the descendants of the enslaved has devolved into the erasure of key staff responsible for uncovering the history of enslavement at the estate of “The Father of the Constitution.”
“They wanted to yank the narrative of Montpelier away from slavery, despite all of their protestations to the contrary,” said board member James French, chair of the Montpelier Descendants Committee . “And they wanted to create a false history that sees slavery and the constitution as unrelated opposites when in fact, freedom and slavery occupied the same place in Montpelier like no other place in the country.”
The targeted employees collectively have more than 50 years of service to Montpelier and 100 years of experience in their fields, according to Cultural Heritage Partners, the law firm representing the MDC.
The Montpelier Foundation board majority maintains that it should be able to pick its own slate of descendants — an absurd notion that really isn’t parity at all.