This was written as a response by the author to somebody who complained that Monticello and Montpelier devoted too much energy to mentioning the history of slavery in these places and not enough to the illustrious founders political thoughts. It was posted on the blog The Negro Subversive, with the title “An open letter to White people who tire of hearing about slavery when they visit slave plantations: especially Suzanne Sherman“
I do know, that if you had visited any of these stately homes in their heyday, you would have seen far more slaves than free people. A uniformed Black man would have taken your coat and cordially led you deeper into the recesses of the place. You would have seen men and women of all ages, impeccably uniformed, hurrying to and fro, forced by the existential threat of violence, to attend to your comfort. If you had just stood still, you might have gone minutes, even hours, without seeing another White face. Madison had a wife and one son, which means that when the Madison family was home “alone,” if you exclude the one White overseer he employed and the overseer’s family who also lived on the estate, as many as 98% of the people living at Montpelier at any time were enslaved Africans. Which means, that while the story of Madison’s presidency and his intellectual contributions to the nation’s founding are his; the story of Montpelier is the story of its slaves.
…The stealing of a single one of their lives, much less hundreds, is a crime of striking magnitude, which therefore makes up the most important story these buildings can tell. But on this, we disagree. I imagine you would be very disappointed by a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where the 1.5 million Jews and Gentiles killed there are distracting from the all-important discussion of Mein Kampf and Hitler’s lackluster painting career. You probably think the Gallic war is the story of Julius Caesar’s trip to France, not thousands of Romans subjugating thousands of Gauls. You probably think the history of America’s Gilded Age is the the story of how Rockefeller, Carnegie, Vanderbilt and Morgan made and spent their wealth, and not the story of men, women and children who had lived their lives in fiery iron dungeons, sweating to make the gilding. You would probably call the stories I suggest: revisionist history, no, it is history given vision, history which shows us the world as it really was, so we can see it as it really is. [link]