James Madison’s Montpelier Votes to Broaden Pool of Descendants of Enslaved Persons for Board Membership

Board Candidates Will Come Both from a Descendants Committee and from the Broader Descendants Community Not Represented by the Committee

Press Release Dated March 27, 2022:

Orange, Virginia - A family of descendants of enslaved persons at James Madison’s Montpelier has criticized the actions of the Montpelier Descendants Committee (MDC) by “…the attempts of the MDC to dominate the interaction of slave descendants and Montpelier, and their self-appointment as the sole voice of the descendants community.”

In a written statement, the Jennings family of Montpelier said they are “in full
agreement with The Montpelier Foundation (TMF) Board in its decision to reject the idea that the MDC has a monopoly on the authority to recommend and/or endorse descendants to the board of TMF. 
“We applaud and are encouraged by the board's willingness to broaden the leadership of Montpelier through structural parity, and we have been dismayed by the attempts of the MDC to dominate the interaction of slave descendants and Montpelier,” the statement from the Jennings family reads.
The TMF Board of Directors voted March 25 to amend the Foundation’s bylaws to provide that director recommendations by the MDC be “a manner, but not the exclusive manner, in which the Foundation may achieve structural parity in the composition of its Board of Directors.”

“To an outsider, it can be confusing, but there is a big difference between the descendants’ “committee” and the descendants’ “community,” said Montpelier Board Chair Gene Hickok. “We want to be sure to include that larger community for board membership.

“James Madison’s Montpelier is a leader in advancing the inclusion of descendants of enslaved persons in the governance of an important historic site,” said Hickok.

“Currently, there are five descendants of enslaved persons on the 16-member board,” said Hickok. “Three are named by the MDC, and two are named by the Foundation. We are working toward a board makeup that is 50% from the descendants community. That is very much on track, despite earlier misinformation and inaccurate reporting.”

“Early, one-sided reporting in some media gives the totally wrong impression that we have somehow walked away from our deep commitment to reaching that 50% target,” said Hickok. “In fact, we are broadening the pool of candidates from the descendants community, not just limiting ourselves to those who are favored by the committee and its chair.”

“Candidates for board membership will continue to be put forward by the MDC,” said Hickok. “There is no change there, none whatsoever, despite earlier impressions left by some reporting and a misleading headline.”

“The board vote is a ‘reset’ of the selection process, meant to provide greater flexibility for the Board in developing structural parity as defined by a 2018 Rubric for teaching the history of enslaved persons.

“The Rubric does not envision or rely upon the concept of a descendants committee as the basis or vehicle for achieving structural parity. Indeed, two direct descendants of enslaved people currently serve as directors of TMF but are not considered part of the descendant community by the MDC for purposes of achieving structural parity,” said Hickok.

“That is wrong.”

The resolution approved by the TMF Board of Directors reads, in part: “The Board Development & Governance Committee shall consider any recommendations of the Montpelier Descendants Committee presented to it in making director nominations and shall endeavor in good faith to reach and maintain a goal of at least one-half of the Board to be comprised of directors either (a) individuals who are recommended or endorsed by Montpelier Descendants Committee or (b) individuals who are identified and recommended by the Foundation to represent the Montpelier descendantscommunity consistent with the definition of the descendants community as defined by the Rubric, in order to achieve parity.”

From a Montpelier staffer this week: “I know there have been difficulties between the Board and the MDC, and I surely am not privy to all the details, but I bitterly resent the approach the MDC has taken. I am a pretty fair student of history, politics and civil rights, and I know of NO other historic destination that works as hard as we do to tell a “more complete American history.”