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.

Moricz was banned from speaking up about LGBTQ topics. He found a brilliant workaround.

Senior class president Zander Moricz was given a fair warning: If he used his graduation speech to criticize the “Don’t Say Gay” law, then his microphone would be shut off immediately.

Moricz had been receiving a lot of attention for his LGBTQ activism prior to the ceremony. Moricz, an openly gay student at Pine View School for the Gifted in Florida, also organized student walkouts in protest and is the youngest public plaintiff in the state suing over the law formally known as the Parental Rights in Education law, which prohibits the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3.

Though well beyond third grade, Moricz nevertheless was also banned from speaking up about the law, gender or sexuality. The 18-year-old tweeted, “I am the first openly-gay Class President in my school’s history–this censorship seems to show that they want me to be the last.”

However, during his speech, Moricz still delivered a powerful message about identity. Even if he did have to use a clever metaphor to do it.

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Leah Menzies/TikTok

Leah Menzies had no idea her deceased mother was her boyfriend's kindergarten teacher.

When you start dating the love of your life, you want to share it with the people closest to you. Sadly, 18-year-old Leah Menzies couldn't do that. Her mother died when she was 7, so she would never have the chance to meet the young woman's boyfriend, Thomas McLeodd. But by a twist of fate, it turns out Thomas had already met Leah's mom when he was just 3 years old. Leah's mom was Thomas' kindergarten teacher.

The couple, who have been dating for seven months, made this realization during a visit to McCleodd's house. When Menzies went to meet his family for the first time, his mom (in true mom fashion) insisted on showing her a picture of him making a goofy face. When they brought out the picture, McLeodd recognized the face of his teacher as that of his girlfriend's mother.

Menzies posted about the realization moment on TikTok. "Me thinking my mum (who died when I was 7) will never meet my future boyfriend," she wrote on the video. The video shows her and McLeodd together, then flashes to the kindergarten class picture.

“He opens this album and then suddenly, he’s like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God — over and over again,” Menzies told TODAY. “I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic.”

Obviously, Menzies is taking great comfort in knowing that even though her mother is no longer here, they can still maintain a connection. I know how important it was for me to have my mom accept my partner, and there would definitely be something missing if she wasn't here to share in my joy. It's also really incredible to know that Menzies' mother had a hand in making McLeodd the person he is today, even if it was only a small part.

@speccylee

Found out through this photo in his photo album. A moment straight out of a movie 🥲

♬ iris - 🫶

“It’s incredible that that she knew him," Menzies said. "What gets me is that she was standing with my future boyfriend and she had no idea.”

Since he was only 3, McLeodd has no actual memory of Menzies' mother. But his own mother remembers her as “kind and really gentle.”

The TikTok has understandably gone viral and the comments are so sweet and positive.

"No the chills I got omggg."

"This is the cutest thing I have watched."

"It’s as if she remembered some significance about him and sent him to you. Love fate 😍✨"

In the caption of the video, she said that discovering the connection between her boyfriend and her mom was "straight out of a movie." And if you're into romantic comedies, you're definitely nodding along right now.

Menzies and McLeodd made a follow-up TikTok to address everyone's positive response to their initial video and it's just as sweet. The young couple sits together and addresses some of the questions they noticed pop up. People were confused that they kept saying McLeodd was in kindergarten but only 3 years old when he was in Menzies' mother's class. The couple is Australian and Menzies explained that it's the equivalent of American preschool.

They also clarified that although they went to high school together and kind of knew of the other's existence, they didn't really get to know each other until they started dating seven months ago. So no, they truly had no idea that her mother was his teacher. Menzies revealed that she "didn't actually know that my mum taught at kindergarten."

"I just knew she was a teacher," she explained.

She made him act out his reaction to seeing the photo, saying he was "speechless," and when she looked at the photo she started crying. McLeodd recognized her mother because of the pictures Menzies keeps in her room. Cue the "awws," because this is so cute, I'm kvelling.

Joy

50-years ago they trade a grilled cheese for a painting. Now it's worth a small fortune.

Irene and Tony Demas regularly traded food at their restaurant in exchange for crafts. It paid off big time.

Photo by Gio Bartlett on Unsplash

Painting traded for grilled cheese worth thousands.

The grilled cheese at Irene and Tony Demas’ restaurant was truly something special. The combination of freshly baked artisan bread and 5-year-old cheddar was enough to make anyone’s mouth water, but no one was nearly as devoted to the item as the restaurant’s regular, John Kinnear.

Kinnear loved the London, Ontario restaurant's grilled cheese so much that he ordered it every single day, though he wouldn’t always pay for it in cash. The Demases were well known for bartering their food in exchange for odds and ends from local craftspeople and merchants.

“Everyone supported everyone back then,” Irene told the Guardian, saying that the couple would often trade free soup and a sandwich for fresh flowers. Two different kinds of nourishment, you might say.

And so, in the 1970s the Demases made a deal with Kinnear that he could pay them for his grilled cheese sandwiches with artwork. Being a painter himself and part of an art community, Kinnear would never run out of that currency.

Little did Kinnear—or anyone—know, eventually he would give the Demases a painting worth an entire lifetime's supply of grilled cheeses. And then some.

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