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Montpelier Foundation appoints 11 nominees from Madison Descendants Committee

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Montpelier

James Madison's Montpelier main house in Orange County in early spring with the South Yard, at right, where enslaved families belonging to the the Fourth U.S. President lived.

The embattled Montpelier Foundation Board of Directors on Monday took a step toward structural parity in electing 11 new members from a list of 20 nominees submitted last month by the Montpelier Descendants Committee.

Among the new Montpelier board members overseeing the plantation of President James Madison are scholars and historians, a social justice activist, pastor, attorneys, authors, a financial expert and former CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien.

Controversial board chairman, Gene Hickok, completing his fourth term, stepped down.

“This momentous decision brings parity in the governance of President James Madison’s estate. At last, descendants of the hundreds of the persons enslaved by the 'Father of the Constitution' and on nearby plantations will now share power on Montpelier’s board,” according to a release from Cultural Heritage Partners.

The Foundation promised structural parity in June 2021 to national acclaim, retracted its commitment in March 2022 to national condemnation, and then appeared to promise it again earlier this month to national skepticism, the release stated.

One of the new board appointees is the Rev. Cornell William Brooks, Harvard Professor of the Practice of Public Leadership & Social Justice and former NAACP President and CEO.

“As our nation grapples with and even grieves over the racial injustices of this day, the work of the Montpelier Foundation is all the more important: teaching the lessons of the living legacy of President James Madison, studying the past and possibilities of our Constitution, and sharing across our Republic and beyond the ongoing story of those enslaved at Montpelier,” he said in statement.

For these reasons and more, Brooks said he was humbled and honored to serve on the board—at the call of the Montpelier Descendants Committee.

MDC leader James French, and former President and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation Stephanie Meeks, were reappointed to second terms.

The Montpelier Descendants Committee and the new appointees have invited remaining candidates not chosen by the Foundation to join an Advisory Council so that they all can assist Montpelier, the release stated.

Retired pediatrician and Foundation board member Bettye Kearse remarked: “Efforts to tell the truth about race in America are not ivory-tower debates. Yesterday’s mass murder in Buffalo by a self-acclaimed white supremacist shows us that lives are at stake.”

The new board members are:

- Dr. Leslie M. Alexander, associate professor in the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies and the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University;

- Daina Ramey Berry, history dept. chair at The University of Texas at Austin; DeAnna Cummings, arts program director at the McKnight Foundation;

- Michael Higginbotham, a law professor, author, and international political consultant;

- Hasan Kwame Jeffries, associate professor of History at The Ohio State University, where he teaches courses on the Civil Rights and Black Power Movement;

- Dean Nicole Thorne Jenkins, the John A. Griffin Dean of the McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia;

- Soledad O’Brien, an award-winning journalist, critically acclaimed author, speaker, and philanthropist who anchors and produces a Hearst Television political magazine program;

- Dr. Joshua D. Rothman, an American historian and chair of the history dept. at University of Alabama;

- Ian H. Solomon, Dean of the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia and

- the Rev. Lawrence “Larry” E. Walker, a church pastor and administrator in Columbia, Maryland, particularly focused on youth education and community empowerment.

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