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James Madison's Montpelier


Orange, VA

Bravo, Montpelier!!!!! This is amazing. Beautiful. Well organized. Relevant.

With intention, the Mere Distinction of Color takes us on an important historical journey. This story and exhibit showcases that we’re moving towards a people-centered preservation movement. Intersecting the origins of slavery and the still lingering injustices we witness today matters. Presenting enslaved workers as a community with agency and with a visible dignity that we all relate to matters. Historic sites not only teach us history and stimulate our intellectual curiosity for learning, but they also push humanity towards a better version of its past and present self. Montpelier’s leadership, innovation, and stewardship of American culture is guiding us towards an unwritten constitution of shared values and ideals that we all desire for the future. I’m thankful to be on this journey of reconciliation, healing, and transformation with everyone involved.
—Brent Leggs, Senior Field Office, National Trust for Historic Preservation

What you all have done is really excellent, and I am impressed by how many resources have been devoted to this project. I liked the movement from room to room and the different “feel” each one has.
—Dr. Nancy Bercaw, Curator, National Museum of African American History and Culture

As for the exhibit itself, I think Montpelier has outdone itself. The "head" and "heart" aspect that I really didn't get in embryo was made manifest in the execution. The focus on the emotional aspects of plantation slavery, specific to Montpelier, was masterfully done and very effective, and the other parts of the exhibit provide plenty of context for American slavery, locally, regionally, and nationally. The use of testimony from descendants was brilliant. And the use of all the different media enhances rather than detracts from the whole effect.

Beyond this, I have to applaud, not just the work of the Montpelier staff, but the decision to execute this exhibition at all. It is a very courageous step which will probably create some pushback, but isn't that the price you pay for leadership?
—David Mattern, Madison Scholar, UVA

2018 Outstanding Public History Project Award

AAM MUSE Award-Silver
Legacy of Slavery Film

SEMC Bronze
Legacy of Slavery Film

AAM MUSE Award-Silver
Fate in the Balance Animation

AASLH Merit Award

AASLH History in Progress Award

Exhibit Design: Proun Design, LLC
Media: Northern Light Productions, Inc.
Exhibit Fabrication: Mystic Scenic Studios, Inc.
Budget: 1.25mil
Opened: June 2017

James Madison was our fourth President, Father of the Constitution, architect of the Bill of Rights, and owner of over 100 slaves. Recent archaeology at Montpelier, his lifelong home, has revealed the foundations of the domestic enslaved complex in the backyard of the mansion and initiated a movement to tell the full story of this site.

The staff of James Madison’s Montpelier and Proun Design, LLC developed exhibits to specifically interpret the paradox of slavery at the home of one of our founding fathers and the larger issue of its impact on the document that became the foundation of our democracy.

Permanent exhibits address issues surrounding the economics of slavery, the debate that raged during the Constitutional Convention, the codification of slavery in the Constitution, and the legacy of slavery, among others through a combination of modern graphics, interactive exhibits, and innovative media.

Link to the Internal Slave Trade animation:
password: mdc

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