On Juneteenth, the descendants of James Madison's slaves return to his home.

James Madison is known as the "father of the Constitution." But while he and the convention delegates built the country on paper, slaves were building it everywhere else.

Today, Madison's historic home Montpelier is open to the public. Visitors can explore the mansion, the Madison family cemetery, acres of picturesque hills, and learn more about Montpelier's enslaved community by touring slaves' quarters.

The mansion at Montpelier. All images via James Madison's Montpelier, used with permission. Photo by Pam Soorenko.


Montpelier is the first presidential home to honor the lives and contributions of slaves with a Juneteenth celebration.

Juneteenth is an annual celebration honoring Major General Gordon Granger and Union soldiers who arrived in Galveston, Texas, with the news that all slaves were officially free. The news came in 1865, more than two and a half years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and months after General Lee surrendered at Appomattox. Granger delivered the joyous announcement on June 19, 1865 and Juneteenth (June + Nineteenth) began.

The celebration at Montpelier on June 17, 2017, was open to the public and included music performances, special tours, historical reenactments, lectures, kids activities, and more.

Photos by Eduardo Montes-Bradley.

But perhaps the best thing about Montpelier's Juneteenth celebration was its guest list.

Descendants of James Madison's slaves and other black families known to live in the area at the time were all invited.

Leontyne Clay Peck is one of the descendants. She grew up in West Virginia, but after moving to nearby Charlottesville, Virginia, 14 years ago and digging into her genealogy, she discovered her ancestors were from the area.

"I felt very comfortable in Madison County and ... my spirit felt very familiar when I was at Montpelier and this area in general," she says. "I know now that's because of my ancestors."

Leontyne Clay Peck at Montpelier.

Today, Peck is active in the Montpelier descendant community. Three years ago, she even took part in an archaeological search on the property to uncover artifacts near the slave quarters. For Peck, it was a spiritual experience.

"When I was touching the dirt and digging, I felt close to the people who were there. Maybe that could have been my relative or someone else's relative," she says. "I felt very comfortable, like the ancestors were saying, 'Don't forget about us. We were here.'"

Montpelier archaeological dig site. Photo by Pam Soorenko.

This year's Juneteenth marked the first time many of the descendants saw a new exhibit on Montpelier's enslaved community.

"The Mere Distinction of Colour," which opened June 5, is a multimedia installation offering visitors the chance to hear stories of slaves at Montpelier told by their living descendants. It also includes some of the artifacts excavated by volunteers and archaeologists at the site. The exhibition studies slavery and its political and economic impact through the lens of the Constitution, a large part of James Madison's legacy.

Top: The slaves cabins in the South Yard. Bottom Left: A recreated slave cabin. Photo by Pam Soorenko.  Bottom Right: Visitors tour the exhibition.

Celebrating the lives and contributions of enslaved people is what Juneteenth is all about.

Whether you're at a presidential home, a neighborhood block party or somewhere in between, take a moment June 19 to honor their memory. Enslaved people built America and their descendants sustain America. For that, we are forever grateful.

Joy abounds at Juneteenth. Photo by Eduardo Montes-Bradley.

Most Shared

I'm staring at my screen watching the President of the United States speak before a stadium full of people in North Carolina. He launches into a lie-laced attack on Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, and the crowd boos. Soon they start chanting, "Send her back! Send her back! Send her back!"

The President does nothing. Says nothing. He just stands there and waits for the crowd to finish their outburst.

WATCH: Trump rally crowd chants 'send her back' after he criticizes Rep. Ilhan Omar www.youtube.com

My mind flashes to another President of the United States speaking to a stadium full of people in North Carolina in 2016. A heckler in the crowd—an old man in uniform holding up a TRUMP sign—starts shouting, disrupting the speech. The crowd boos. Soon they start chanting, "Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!"

Keep Reading Show less
Recommended
via EarthFix / Flickr

What will future generations never believe that we tolerated in 2019?

Dolphin and orca captivity, for sure. They'll probably shake their heads at how people died because they couldn't afford healthcare. And, they'll be completely mystified at the amount of food some people waste while others go starving.

According to Biological Diversity, "An estimated 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is wasted every year, costing households, businesses and farms about $218 billion annually."

There are so many things wrong with this.

First of all it's a waste of money for the households who throw out good food. Second, it's a waste of all of the resources that went into growing the food, including the animals who gave their lives for the meal. Third, there's something very wrong with throwing out food when one in eight Americans struggle with hunger.

Supermarkets are just as guilty of this unnecessary waste as consumers. About 10% of all food waste are supermarket products thrown out before they've reached their expiration date.

Three years ago, France took big steps to combat food waste by making a law that bans grocery stores from throwing away edible food.According to the new ordinance, stores can be fined for up to $4,500 for each infraction.

Previously, the French threw out 7.1 million tons of food. Sixty-seven percent of which was tossed by consumers, 15% by restaurants, and 11% by grocery stores.

This has created a network of over 5,000 charities that accept the food from supermarkets and donate them to charity. The law also struck down agreements between supermarkets and manufacturers that prohibited the stores from donating food to charities.

"There was one food manufacturer that was not authorized to donate the sandwiches it made for a particular supermarket brand. But now, we get 30,000 sandwiches a month from them — sandwiches that used to be thrown away," Jacques Bailet, head of the French network of food banks known as Banques Alimentaires, told NPR.

It's expected that similar laws may spread through Europe, but people are a lot less confident at it happening in the United States. The USDA believes that the biggest barrier to such a program would be cost to the charities and or supermarkets.

"The logistics of getting safe, wholesome, edible food from anywhere to people that can use it is really difficult," the organization said according to Gizmodo. "If you're having to set up a really expensive system to recover marginal amounts of food, that's not good for anybody."

Plus, the idea may seem a little too "socialist" for the average American's appetite.

"The French version is quite socialist, but I would say in a great way because you're providing a way where they [supermarkets] have to do the beneficial things not only for the environment, but from an ethical standpoint of getting healthy food to those who need it and minimizing some of the harmful greenhouse gas emissions that come when food ends up in a landfill," Jonathan Bloom, the author of American Wasteland, told NPR.

However, just because something may be socialist doesn't mean it's wrong. The greater wrong is the insane waste of money, damage to the environment, and devastation caused by hunger that can easily be avoided.

Planet

Policing women's bodies — and by consequence their clothes — is nothing new to women across the globe. But this mother's "legging problem" is particularly ridiculous.

What someone wears, regardless of gender, is a personal choice. Sadly, many folks like Maryann White, mother of four sons, think women's attire — particularly women's leggings are a threat to men.

While sitting in mass at the University of Notre Dame, White was aghast by the spandex attire the young women in front of her were sporting.

Keep Reading Show less
More

Men are sharing examples of how they step up and step in when they see problematic behaviors in their peers, and people are here for it.

Twitter user "feminist next door" posed an inquiry to her followers, asking "good guys" to share times they saw misogyny or predatory behavior and did something about it. "What did you say," she asked. "What are your suggestions for the other other men in this situation?" She added a perfectly fitting hashtag: #NotCoolMan.

Not only did the good guys show up for the thread, but their stories show how men can interrupt situations when they see women being mistreated and help put a stop to it.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture