The Mere Distinction of Colour

Montpelier is mostly known for its association with President James Madison.  However, the site has created a new exhibit called The Mere Distinction of Colour focused on the lives of slaves living at the site.  “This provocative, multimedia exhibition, offers visitors the opportunity to hear the stories of those enslaved at Montpelier told by their living descendants, and explore how the legacy of slavery impacts today’s conversations about race, identity, and human rights.” This exhibit, located in the Cellar of the site, aims to educate the public on how slavery impacted individuals, their families, descendants, and the entire history and development of the United States.

 

“We have seen the mere distinction of colour made in the most enlightened period of time, a ground of the most oppressive dominion ever exercised by man over man” – James Madison, 1787

The exhibit opened to the public on June 4, 2017.  Both historical and archaeological research was used to create this holistic story of America and those enslaved humans whose stories are rarely told.  The emotional and evocative story is told through letters, documents, artifacts, and art, to not only tell the story of the Montpelier slaves but also the full legacy of slavery in the United States and its impact on the world we live in today.

History and archaeology cannot ignore the ugly histories.  Slavery was a large and impactful part of American history that is often glossed over or told in simple black-and-white terms.  Because of this, the real stories of those enslaved peoples are not told.  These stories are just as important to understanding our past as James Madison’s story.  Archaeologists can use the formation of slavery and interactions between the races to combat modern notion of race and racism.  Slavery and its role in American history is more than the black and white picture history classes portray.  The archaeological finds used in the exhibit and Heather Lash’s thesis debunk some of the myths associated around the daily lives of slaves.  In doing this, these people are given their agency, personalities, thoughts, dreams, and voices back.

“This isn’t African American history, it’s American History” – Hugh Alexander, descendant

 

For more information about The Mere Distinction of Colour exhibit, visit Montpelier.org.

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Information, Videos, and Image from Montpelier.org

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