Virginia Reckoning

There’s a recent article about African-American descendants of enslaved persons having more say in the research and presentation of history at historical homes, like the Executive Mansion in Virginia.

This is as it should have always been and is an important acknowledgement.

The article states, “And institutions across Virginia are turning to descendants as they reckon with their history of slavery.”

“Turning to descendants”

The Genealogy Situation Room is honored to share more information on some of the historic places where descendants of Virginia enslaved persons may turn:

The Getting Word Oral History Project is for those whose family has a connection to the enslaved people of Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, second president of the United States.

Finding the Enslaved Laborers at UVA is a Facebook group that is dedicated to finding descendants of the enslaved workers at the University of Virginia

Highland’s Council of Descendant Advisors is a group composed of descendants of the enslaved workers at Highland, the home of the fifth president of the United States, James Monroe. According to the website, “Museum professionals often come from outside the communities most affected by the histories they teach. To counteract the perspective created by this tendency, a group of ten descendants of men, women, and children enslaved at Highland are engaged in an initiative of “shared authority” of interpreting the site’s history…”

Descendants’ Project is a part of the outreach at Montpelier, the home of the fourth president of the United States, James Madison. The project involves connecting to the descendants of the persons enslaved at Montpelier (there were six generations of enslaved there). There is documentary research, as well as annual excavations programs, and collaboration to interpret African American history.

Some Virginia historical homes, via their websites, acknowledge the reality that there were generations of enslaved families who lived, worked, and died there. Yet, and for whatever reason, these particular places of history do not currently have the level of engagement with the descendants of enslaved laborers as the above noted:

Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington, the first president of the United States, has a website that displays the influence of those who were held bondage there and even features the photo of a descendant and her heirloom pottery from the Mount Vernon estate.

Berkeley Plantation is the place where my Harrison family lived and where signer of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Harrison V, and his son, William Henry Harrison, the ninth president of the United States, were both born. Earlier this year, on the Fourth of July, Berkeley posted “Black Lives Matter” on their website. Currently, Berkeley’s website reflects a crafted narrative and a matter-of-fact statement from the owners, the Jamieson family: “We believe that Black Americans, Indigenous People, and their descendants deserve justice, respect, and support as they have suffered unimaginable tragedies and losses through enslavement and genocide at the foundation of America.”

At least one Virginia institution is offering reparations to descendants of the enslaved. Virginia Theological Seminary has designated $1.7 million dollars for a reparations endowment fund. From the VTS website: “Virginia Theological Seminary recognizes that enslaved persons worked on the campus, and that even after slavery ended, VTS participated in segregation. VTS recognizes that we must start to repair the material consequences of our sin in the past.”

The above are just some examples of the ways that historic Virginia homes and institutions have chosen to begin to reconcile, even if only a bit timidly, the irrefutable horrors of the past that enslaved and yes, Indigenous persons experienced. The conversation continues because

We Remain…

The Genealogy Situation Room

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