French Middle School Students Commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation at Montpelier 


On Sunday, October 20, Montpelier will host twenty-three middle school students from Collège Victor Schoelcher in Champagney, France, along with their principal, three teachers, and a film crew who will be shooting the third episode of a documentary series devoted to the history of slavery and its abolition. The students have come to Charlottesville as a delegation called “From Schoelcher to Lincoln” to learn about the history of the slave trade and the hard road to its abolition.

The international exchange is hosted by Buford Middle School. Buford French teacher Dorothy Carney, who has piloted the partnership, said “The students in the French classes at Buford have been preparing to host their visitors by stepping up their French conversational skills, researching historical and modern slavery, and interacting with the Champagney school via the Internet and Twitter.” During their nine-day stay in Charlottesville, the students are living with host families, attending school with their American peers, and will be welcomed at a reception at the Jefferson School City Center.

Champagney played a pioneering role in the abolitionist movement in France. “The citizens of Champagney penned ‘The Vow of Champagney’ which was a plea to Louis XVI to abolish slavery,” said Francis Pinot, headmaster of Collège Victor Schoelcher. “In commemoration of this Vow and the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the objective of this trip is to open the perspectives of a new generation so that they are able to communicate about past, and also bring to light the current social preoccupations of our culture.”

To this end, Pinot invited French filmmaker Modeste Abraham Sallah of Akwaaba Productions to join the expedition. Sallah is of Togolese origins, and like many West Africans, immigrated to France when he was a child. Sallah attributes his interest in the history of slavery to a visit to “The Door of No Return” in Ouidah, Benin, one of the principal ports of departure of the slaves towards the Americas. Sallah produced his first movie on the subject in 2008. The footage he will acquire at Montpelier on Sunday will be used for his third film entitled, “Africaphone 3: Héritages Partagés.”  

“We are thrilled to host this exchange,” says Kat Imhoff, President and CEO of The Montpelier Foundation. “As we look toward 2037 and the 250th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution, engaging the next generation in constitutional self-government, both here and abroad, is critical to our mission.” The Champagney students will continue to Harlem and then Washington, where they will present President Obama with their town medal and a link from the Slave Chain on display at their local history museum, La Maison de la Négritude. 





Caroline Godfrey