Colleen A. Sheehan
“Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” (DEI) is all the rage on university and college campuses across America. It has spread to corporate America, especially Big Tech, and is on the move in virtually every aspect of American life, including at landmark sites of our nation’s history.
Evidence of this abounds at the homes of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, two of America’s early presidents and the author of the Declaration of Independence and “Father of the Constitution,” respectively. According to a study of three presidential homes by Brenda Hafera of the Heritage Foundation, the exhibits, films, and narrated tours at Washington’s Mt. Vernon are historically accurate and fair, while at Jefferson’s Monticello the motif is ”white privilege” and the emphasis is decidedly on Jefferson as slave-owner rather than on his ideas or accomplishments. But it is at the home of James Madison’s Montpelier that woke revisionist history reaches a new and dismally shocking level of ideological manipulation and deceitful distortion.*
Why is this happening? How did it come to be? Hafera’s Heritage report, which superbly recounts this rather lengthy and complex chain of events, is the go-to document for anyone who wants to understand how the Soviet-like rewriting of history has become part of our culture. The upshot of this study is that the “woke left” is behind the politicization of Madison’s Montpelier, pursuing an agenda to undermine Americans’ love and respect for their country, their Constitution, and their civic way of life. Outing the unsubs, Hafera identifies the Montpelier Descendants Committee (or MDC, the majority of whom, it turns out, are actually not descendants of Montpelier slaves), the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and the National Trust for Historic Preservation (a private non-profit organization) as major forces behind the politicization of Montpelier.
Montpelier has now publicly responded to the Heritage report, and the Heritage Foundation has counter-responded. Here is that exchange.
From the Montpelier Foundation: The Heritage Foundation’s report is full of falsehoods intended to advance a supremacist ideology. The tours and exhibits they now criticize were actually developed while a prominent former Heritage Foundation fellow served on the Montpelier board and was subsequently elected as chair. The only thing that has changed is that our current Board chair and the majority of our board members are now Black. The Heritage Foundation panelists [at an event earlier this month] repeatedly labeled these Black leaders’ perspectives as “alien” and ”foreign.” That tactic of making Black people the ‘frightening other’ is historically common for those too fragile to accept the telling of full history.
From the Heritage Foundation:
Diminishing James Madison’s accomplishments and the U.S. Constitution does a disservice to Madison’s legacy and the careful, thoughtful preservation of our history. Ignoring the facts and analysis of my report, the Montpelier Foundation predictably chose to attack me personally and The Heritage Foundation, instinctively resorting to the left’s talking point that criticism of critical race theory and its offshoots is somehow proof of “white supremacy.” Such an extreme response only draws more attention to the fact that the foundation is desperate to cover up their radical, anti-American history policies. Clearly, they are more interested in promoting an ideology of injustice rather than the principles of the American founding.
The essence of the Montpelier Foundation’s statement—plus a bit of filling in the blanks— is that nothing has really ch-anged since former Her-itage Fellow Dr. Eugene Hickok was Chairman of the Montpelier Foundation, except that now the Foundation Board’s membership is majority Black. That indicates the racist nature of the Heritage Foundation’s criticisms. When, at a recent Heritage-sponsored event, panelist Dr. William B. Allen called the current interpretation of American history at Montpelier “alien,” he joined Hafera in promoting “supremacist” ideology and making Blacks the “frightening other.”
It may seem a bit odd for the anti-black “supremacist” accusation to omit the qualifier “white” as in “white supremacist.” But if one watches the online video to which the Heritage report alludes, the reason becomes obvious. The panelist (William Allen) who accused the Montpelier Foundation of advocating an interpretation of Madison and American History that is fictitious and “alien” to the ears of anyone who has studied this period of history is not only a renowned scholar of the American Founding but the former Chairman of the United States Civil Rights Commission. He also happens to be black.
It is risible, then, to say that William Allen makes blacks into the “frightening other.” Dr. Allen grew up in rural northern Florida on the border of Georgia during an era when blacks did not ride in the front of buses or drink at the same water fountains as whites. He has devoted his life to his neighbors, his students, and his fellow citizens—studying and teaching the principles of equality, liberty, and self-government, and working to bring these principles to bear for the betterment of the country he loves. It is sad that the Montpelier Foundation would stoop so low, to knowingly denigrate and abuse such a man—one of America’s civil rights champions, in their underhanded attempt to mislead the public.
Both William B. Allen’s and Brenda Hafera’s analyses of the current situation at Montpelier deserve our attention. The end game of the woke left has relatively little to do with racial politics and everything to do with damning and rejecting what America stands for. To accomplish this requires tainting the nation’s origins and especially the reputations of the nation’s Founders. As long as the Founders are respected, the citizens of America will hold onto the ideals of the nation.
To breed disrespect and disgust towards our progenitors, a concerted effort is presently at work to suppress discussion about what the Founders believed and aspired to achieve. The principles of the American Founding are simply not compatible with the agenda of the woke left. Rejecting the idea that all human beings are created equal and have certain inalienable rights, cutting-edge woke progressives believe that there is no such thing as human nature or natural rights, and that equity requires radical change and the creation of a completely different kind of society. This craven new world will be transhuman, characterized by a limitless plasticity of life choices.
To show respect for the principles and accomplishments of the Founding generation is not synonymous with being uncritical about the wrongs and terrible injustices that mark our nation’s past. The story of America is complex, and its telling should reflect what deserves praise and what deserves blame. The difference between traditional historical narrative and the woke left’s account of the American past lies precisely in the willingness to tell the full story.
Dr. Allen’s use of the word “alien” is in the context of the SPLC’s current “effort…to take over our understanding of American culture”—to “colonize [American] culture from an alien perspective.” The attempt by the SPLC and others “to redefine the United States as only a slave-holding society,” Allen asserts, is
false to the facts, the history, and the culture. And that attempt can only succeed insofar as the attempt to colonize the culture succeeds, i.e., to take over the role of interpretation, and to “control the narrative,” as they now like to say. So that is the period we’re living in, and that is what is happening in these historic homes….
That’s what the SPLC and a host of folk on the woke left are up to, Allen argues, and that’s what is at the bottom of the re-interpretation of history at Montpelier and other national historic sites and monuments.
This relatively small battle over Madison and the telling of the American story at Montpelier is, in fact, a microcosm of the larger culture war that has gripped the nation and that goes to the core of what America stands for, of who we are as a people.
There is nothing small or parochial about this war. On the one side is a concerted and powerful effort to turn Americans against their country, to make them loathe America. On the other side are those who would continue the work of Washington and Madison, of Frederick Douglass and Lincoln, to rid America of every form of tyranny and preserve what is right and good about our land. In the end, “we cannot escape history.” These fiery times will show us to ourselves, alight in “honor or dishonor,” as we go forward to “nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.”
*According to a post on Facebook, there is a job opening for a Manager of Educational Programs at James Madison’s Montpelier. It reads: “Woke applicants encouraged. Knowledge about America’s fourth President and his remarkable achievements NOT REQUIRED.” A friend sent this to me. I have to admit that for a New York minute I thought the advertisement might have been serious.