Washington, D.C.  April 4, 2022 – AAAM Investigates Montpelier’s Decision to Strip Power from Enslaved Descendants Group

The Association of African American Museums (AAAM) is troubled and disappointed by  the James Madison’s Montpelier estate’s recent decision to disempower the Montpelier Descendants Committee.  Last year, the Montpelier Foundation’s Board of Directors announced plans to allow the descendants of the plantation home to have equal share authority for the site.  Through their most recent action, the Montpelier’s board has thrown decades of progress back into an era rooted in suppressing the full truth of the site.


AAAM stands with the National Trust for Historic Preservation in its effort to show support to the descendant community.  The Trust’s chief executive, Paul Edmonson wrote, “We believe this change would undermine decades of important work that led to the formation of the committee in the first place, and in turn would set back Montpelier’s efforts to continue the necessary work of uplifting descendants’ voices, and repairing the relationship between the broader African American community and Montpelier, the former site of generations of enslavement.”


The AAAM board, staff, and the full body of its membership, stand alongside the many former and current staffers of Montpelier who helped build bridges and cultivate decades worth of trust with several members of the descendant communities.  We value their work, and just as AAAM supported their grassroot efforts to start this important research and interpretation, we continue to support their efforts of shared stewardship of the site.


AAAM takes this action from Montpelier’s board very seriously. Such actions have a direct and deleterious effect on our community and membership. To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose 1968 assassination and subsequent legacy is recognized today, we are asking Montpelier to be true to what they put on paper. We support the innovative staff and descendant committee in the work as they continue to persevere forward.  AAAM strongly encourages the James Montpelier Mansion’s board, the Montpelier descendant community, as well as the board of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, to convene and discuss strategic ways to move forward.



“In accordance with years of reparative work conducted by community and site stakeholders and the creation of best-practices to guide engagement at historic sites, Montpelier Foundation’s Board of Directors announced plans that would enable descendant community members to have shared authority in determining the trajectory of the site. The Board of Montpelier’s recent decision is completely antithetical to the promise of progress and reconciliation.”

-AAAM Member

“We are disappointed in the Montpelier Foundation’s decision to disenfranchise the Montpelier Descendants Committee by rescinding their commitment to have shared authority with the descendants of the enslaved. This decision has exemplified the idiom to ‘take one step forward, then two steps backward’”

-AAAM Institutional Member, Historic Site

“We at Belle Meade Historic Site and Winery stand with the descendant community as we all hope to work towards the ethical, inclusive, and empathic interpretation of Southern history; especially, the history of enslavement. In this case, we stand with the descendant community as they fight for transparency and representation on their board. Until now, Montpelier has been a light for the ways in which similar institutions could begin and cultivate the connection between former plantations and the descendants of those formerly enslaved there and it is a shame to see the regression of such groundbreaking work. ”

-Belle Meade Historic Site and Winery Staff


“When we think about collective memory, people’s relationship to place and space is complicated by shared and divergent experiences and perspectives. The African American experience is one of triumph and trauma, and descendant voices telling that history is essential. To marginalize, sensor, or sanitize that expression furthers the harms of the past. In looking back at history, as a nation, it is clear there is always a moment to do things differently; today is that moment when sites need to come together and empower descendant communities to tell their own stories.”

-AAAM Lifetime Member


“The National Trust Descendant Engagement Rubric and Montpellier example of autonomy and collaboration were a result of decades of engagement work conducted at historical sites such as African Meeting House in Philadelphia (PA), African Burial Ground in Manhattan (NY), and Shockoe Bottom in Richmond (VA); once hidden histories, silent on the landscape and in archives, these histories were recovered at the urging of advisory groups and through intentional work with direct descendants as well as the multitudes of African Americans who felt connected. To distance and silence those voices again is a loss to all people; without the perspective of descendants, the full story would remain hidden. A collective effort representative of the diversity of America has to be the goal.”

-AAAM Institutional Member, Historic Site


“In reality, descendant engagement is about all of us, descendants of freedom seekers, enslaved people, free Blacks, slaveholders, abolitionists, change-makers, Native Americans, those who never left, those who returned, 20th Century immigrants, recent immigrants; the bottom line is descendant engagement is a reflection of us all. We must tell the “unvarnished truth” as stated by historian John Hope Franklin. Direct descendants and those who are willing to talk about the difficult history gives us all a chance to heal from the past. Silencing those voices is a deliberate decision to distort the truth.”

-AAAM Institutional Member, Historic Site


“The Robert F. Smith Center for the Digitization and Curation of African American History, National Museum of African American History and Culture pledges, through AAAM, to support digital preservation and make more accessible hidden and often denied histories of descendant communities. Through the community curation program and Family History Center, with the leadership and guidance of the members of AAAM, Smith Center will honor those histories.”

-Dr. Doretha Williams, Center Director, Robert F. Smith Center for the Digitization and Curation of African American History National Museum of African American History and Culture


Located in Washington, D.C., AAAM is a non-profit member organization established to support African and African American focused museums nationally and internationally and the professionals who protect, preserve and interpret African and African American art, history, and culture. Established as the single representative and principal voice of the African American museum movement, the Association seeks to strengthen and advocate for institutions and individuals’ interests committed to the preservation of African-derived cultures. AAAM’s services enhance those museums’ ability to serve the needs and interests of persons of African ancestry and those who wish to know more about the art, history, and culture of African-derived cultures.


For more information about the Association of African American Museums, visit www.blackmuseums.org