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Mellon Foundation Grants $5.8 Million to Memorialize Lives of Enslaved People

Press Release Date: March 21, 2023

Orange, Virginia – The Montpelier Foundation (TMF) and Montpelier Descendants Committee (MDC) announced today that the Mellon Foundation has awarded TMF nearly $5.8 million to fund the construction of a memorial to enslaved people at Montpelier, the lifelong home of James Madison, fourth president of the United States.

Mellon is the nation’s largest supporter of the arts and humanities. The grant is part of Mellon’s “Monuments Project” initiative, an unprecedented $250 million commitment to transform the nation’s commemorative landscape by supporting public projects that more completely and accurately represent American history, including the stories of those who have often been denied historical recognition.

TMF and MDC will use the funds to build a memorial to the enslaved “Invisible Founders” of the nation. This monument will expand public understanding of the term “Founders” to include enslaved Americans, whose vast intellectual and skilled contributions supported the birth of the Republic.

Madison’s 2,650-acre Montpelier plantation is located in Orange, Virginia, 88 miles southwest of Washington, DC. TMF stewards Montpelier as a historic site and Constitutional education center open to the public. TMF aims to become the nation’s most exciting, historically compelling, and culturally relevant museum by leading the conversation about the Constitution’s significance in modern American life.

TMF considers the nation’s founders to include not only Revolutionary-era statesmen like Madison, but also the hundreds of thousands of people enslaved at the time of the founding. Reverend Lawrence “Larry” Walker, President of the MDC observed, “Our ancestors’ faith, perseverance, skills, creativity, and bodies built the economic foundations of the United States, and we now have the opportunity to honor their contributions and lives as a part of an inclusive historical narrative.”

By urging Americans to see those to whom we owe so much – about whom we know so little – Montpelier will expand the possibilities for accurately telling our national origin story. Director of the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution Katie Crawford-Lackey stated, “Our goal is to harness the power of public history, art, and commemoration in innovative ways to reinforce transcendent values of national unity, healing, and renewal.”

Memorialization at Montpelier is a demonstration of structural parity between TMF and MDC. Parity was achieved after great struggle stretching over three years in May 2022, when the TMF Board elected 11 new members nominated by the MDC. The adoption of parity as a groundbreaking governance model, a first among national historic sites, follows a 20-year period marked by close collaboration between Montpelier staff and the Descendants of those held in bondage in the region.

James French – the founding Chairman of the MDC who led the MDC’s struggle to achieve parity, now the Chairman of the TMF Board of Directors – concluded, “As the first American institution to have achieved equal co-stewardship with the descendants of the enslaved, our work is the full expression of the Madisonian principle of equal representation for all. By bringing people together at Montpelier to explore the evidence of a far more complex and broader origin story, at the home of the Father of the Constitution, we wish to plant the seeds for stronger democratic bonds and for repairing a divided nation.”

TMF’s recently-announced Four Pillars – Civic Engagement, Reimagining the Visitor Experience, Memorialization, and Building The Arc National Trail – guide Montpelier’s Constitution-focused work. The grant is the essential first step in the Memorialization Pillar, a long-term plan that includes additional research and archaeological survey at the Montpelier Burial Ground. This inaugural work will honor the six generations of enslaved men, women, and children who are buried at Montpelier and remember enslaved people across the nation. The site, scale, and form of the Memorial will continue to expand over time, to include a museum space that will house exhibitions and public programs and facilitate continued research.

About The Montpelier Descendants Committee (MDC):

The Montpelier Descendants Committee (MDC) is the first independent, Descendant-led organization to establish itself as an equal co-steward of a major historic site in America. The MDC is devoted to restoring the narratives of enslaved Americans at plantation sites in Central Virginia, including but not limited to James Madison’s Montpelier, from the margins to the center of historical discourse. The MDC promotes a more accurate understanding of the lives of enslaved people based on broader, richer, and more truthful interpretations of American history. Through public programs, events, research, and communications the MDC seeks to demonstrate how the lives of enslaved persons made possible and informed the ideals of universal liberty enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, yet denied to them. To learn more, visit

About James Madison’s Montpelier:

Montpelier is the lifelong home of James Madison, Father of the Constitution, Architect of the Bill of Rights, and fourth President of the United States. As a monument to James Madison and the Enslaved Community, a museum of American history, and a center for constitutional education, Montpelier engages the public with the enduring legacy of Madison’s most powerful idea: government by the people. The historic home and 2,650-acre grounds are open to visitors and student groups throughout the year, and the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution at Montpelier offers world-class residential and online educational programs. Montpelier is administered by The Montpelier Foundation and is a National Trust for Historic Preservation site. To learn more, visit

About the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation:

The Mellon Foundation is the nation’s largest supporter of the arts and humanities. Since 1969, the Foundation has been guided by its core belief that the humanities and arts are essential to human understanding. The Foundation believes that the arts and humanities are where we express our complex humanity, and that everyone deserves the beauty, transcendence, and freedom that can be found there. Through our grants, we seek to build just communities enriched by meaning and empowered by critical thinking, where ideas and imagination can thrive. To learn more, visit