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James Madison’s Montpelier estate rehires staff let go during recent turmoil

Montpelier-Descendants of Enslaved
Posted at 4:02 PM, Jun 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-05 16:02:39-04

ORANGE, Va. — Several staffers who were previously fired or suspended during recent turmoil at former President James Madison’s Montpelier estate in Virginia have been reinstated to their jobs.

Montpelier's recently appointed Interim President and CEO Elizabeth Chew opted to bring back four staff members who were let go in April by previous leadership, the Culpeper Star-Exponent reported. Chew also expressed optimism in an email to supporters that the estate will recover from the recent controversy over how it would, or would not, share governance with the descendants of people once enslaved there.

Earlier this year, the board that manages the estate was criticized for moving to reverse a 2021 commitment to share authority equally with the descendants.

Montpelier Buried Slave
FILE - In this April 12, 2017, file photo, a tarp covers an archeological dig site where the original slave kitchen was located at James Madison's Montpelier in Montpelier, Va. Experts, using ground-penetrating radar, at former President James Madison’s Virginia estate are searching for the burial grounds of slaves who worked there. More than 100 slaves lived at the estate at the time of Madison's death, but little is recorded about their lives. Montpelier also is working to restore slave quarters on the site. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

More than 11,000 people, including Montpelier visitors and donors, signed a petition protesting the decision and the firing or suspension of pro-parity staff members with decades of professional experience.

Dozens of organizations also expressed outrage about the board’s retreat. The groups ranged from an organization of descendants of Japanese American citizens interned during World War II to an international association of “sites of conscience” that includes Holocaust museums.

In May, in another reversal, the board elected 11 new members representing descendants of people once enslaved there. The vote created full parity for the descendants in the foundation's leadership, The Washington Post reported.

Chew herself had previously been terminated from a role as the plantation’s executive vice president and chief curator, but the estate's board appointed her to the new leadership position in late May. She then reinstated the four staffers who were removed or terminated in April.

“The entire staff has been through so much these past few months, and their return has done much to boost morale and generate hope that as an organization, Montpelier will continue in the right direction," Chew wrote.

Changing South Jim Crow Relics
Snow covers the ground at the Montpelier Train Depot segregation exhibit in Orange, Va., Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. Preservationists at President James Madison’s Montpelier estate, where the white-and-yellow depot is located, decided to keep the segregated waiting rooms when the structure was renovated in 2010. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

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