Support the Montpelier Descendants Committee

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Support the Montpelier Descendants Committee

This petition made change with 11,287 supporters!
Descendants Matter started this petition

UPDATE: The Montpelier Descendants Committee has submitted a list of vetted candidates to The Montpelier Foundation Board of Directors. It is clear that the MDC recognizes the national importance of Montpelier, by establishing a slate of candidates that are nationally recognized for their scholarly, professional, political, and business leadership. 

This list was requested by the The Montpelier Foundation (TMF) Board from the MDC so that it can establish parity by electing 9 candidates. However, a press release from April 27th states that they will only seat board members in two waves, with full parity reached by the Fall Board Meeting. A more recent press release indicates a willingness to seat new Board members immediately.

While we hope this is true, we still encourage you to send your emails to support@montpelier.org to further encourage them to make good on their promise, and to vote in 9 new members, and ensure their terms as full voting members begins immediately.

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This petition is to support the Montpelier Descendants Committee and Montpelier staff in their continued effort to ensure parity at The Montpelier Foundation. This effort is under threat today, as we, members of the public, have learned through this article in the Washington Post:

James Madison's Montpelier Votes to Strip Power from Enslaved Descendants Group 

and from a recent opinion piece by The Washington Post Editorial Board.

What you can do:

  • Sign this petition.
  • Share it on social media with the hashtag #FreeMontpelier 
  • Email support@montpelier.org to voice your concern directly to Montpelier leadership.

From the MDC:

Public Letters of Support for MDC:

Public Letters of Support for The Montpelier Foundation Board:

  • There are none.

In the Press:

In summary:

On June 16, 2021, The Montpelier Foundation (TMF) committed to bylaw changes to implement structural parity with the Montpelier Descendants Committee (MDC), following the guidance provided in the Engaging Descendant Communities in the Interpretation of Slavery at Museums and Historic Sites: A Rubric of Best Practices Established by the National Summit on Teaching Slavery (The Rubric). The document, developed at Montpelier with support from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and through the collaboration of over 50 museum professionals, scholars, and descendants of enslaved people, has been the standard for collaborative engaged interpretation of slavery.

Despite passing this resolution, no progress on attaining parity on the Board, or establishing an Memorandum of Understanding between the two organizations has been made, despite efforts by the MDC. The article details the ways TMF has worked in opposition to the resolution. Today, the TMF Board of Directors revoked the commitment made in June. 

Montpelier has built its reputation on excellence in descendant engagement, including over 20 years of collaboration, the entirety of its existence. Its permanent exhibition, The Mere Distinction of Colour, established a framework for working with descendant communities - the exhibition has received six national awards. It has also been nationally recognized through multiple federal grants, including prestigious grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and Institute of Museum and Library Services, that are built on collaborative, engaged research and interpretation, all following practices outlined in the Rubric and with the MDC. 

The June 2021 vote to establish parity with the MDC and acknowledging the MDC as the sole representative of the descendants was groundbreaking. Achieving parity would be the first ever instance of shared power with descendants at a presidential home. Unfortunately, the behavior outlined in the Washington Post article demonstrates that the TMF Board and Executive leadership has not acted in “good faith” towards establishing parity, and has in fact worked in the opposite direction.

Friday’s proposal demonstrates that lack of good faith. 

Now that it has been passed, Montpelier is no longer the example of best practices - it is a cautionary tale. It will no longer be the place that critically engages with the history of the US Constitution, and practices an equitable and democratic approach to exploring and interpreting our shared past, because it will be closed to the important voices and experiences of descendants. Montpelier’s contributions to this important work in the disciplines of museums, public history, archaeology, and architectural history will be relegated to the past. 

Most importantly, this resolution denies the opportunity for descendants of the people enslaved at Montpelier to define their own membership and representation, and to work with TMF as equitable partners at their ancestral home. 

This petition is to show public support of the Montpelier Descendants Committee, and the dedicated full-time Montpelier staff, of whom a majority have publicly stated their support. 

If you visit Montpelier, and have been moved by the award winning interpretation, research, or programming, you should sign: it would not be possible without the MDC.

If you believe that people should not only be a part of, but a leader in, the telling of their own histories, then you should sign.

If you are a museum professional who believes that museums are ethically bound to collaborate and build equity and parity with descendant communities, you should sign.

If you believe that power is most influential when it is shared, not when it is hoarded, you should sign.

If you believe that history is inclusive of all people in the past, not just the elite, you should sign.

If you believe that the historic sites provide a place to think critically about the past to reflect on our own society, then you should sign.

If you believe in the basic Madisonian principles that we can best influence the future by critically engaging with the past, and that a collective union - despite its disagreements - is the most effective and just way to build something "more perfect", then you should sign.

 

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