Montpelier prepares to open comprehensive exhibit on slavery

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ORANGE COUNTY, Va. (NEWSPLEX) -- Working in the shadow of Montpelier, kneels Terry Brock, Senior Research Archeologist for the mansion.

Brock is part of a greater effort by Montpelier to tell the story of the slaves who once lived and worked at the mansion.

"Over 100 people were enslaved on this property," Brock said. "So that means that the vast majority of the people who lived and worked here were enslaved African-Americans."

Finding new artifacts almost every minute, Brock and his team have been able to unearth a substantial amount of information on the slaves of Montpelier.

"We see a lot of evidence of trying to create your own space on the landscape," Brock explained. "For example, a pipe bowl that is found in a slave quarter, therefore definitely belonged to an enslaved individual, has the word 'liberty' on it."

Now, Brock's discoveries are being used in a new, multi-million dollar exhibit at the mansion that takes a comprehensive approach to explaining and understanding slavery.

The new exhibit is called "The Mere Distinction of Colour."

Kat Imhoff, President of the Montpelier Foundation, has spearheaded the mansion's efforts to understand the complexity of the Early Republic and slavery.

Her work attracted the $10 million gift that has made the exhibit possible. Imhoff hopes it teaches visitors the duality early Americans lived in, with a country that strived for freedom but also owned slaves.

"What a big responsibility it is to be telling the lives of these people who weren't able to tell their own stories," added Brock.

In its exhibit, which includes several reconstructed buildings where slaves lived and worked, interactive exhibits below the mansion, videos, pictures and even stories from the descendants of slaves, Montpelier is giving a raw depiction of life as a slave.

"If we want that story to pass on to the next generation, it has got to be more honest. It has got to be more complex," said Giles Morris, VP of Communications at Montpelier. "It's' about understanding where we came from and what was our DNA as a democratic republic, and slavery was a part of that."

From an interactive Constitution that lights up the sections that protect slavery, to the names of the slaves owned by the Madisons, the exhibit aims to show the full scope of slavery at both the mansion and the Untied States.

"We need to be telling those stories because they're just as much a part of the founding and birth of our nation as anybody else," said Brock.

"The Mere Distinction of Colour" opens to the public on June 5.

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