James Madison's Montpelier We The People Spring 2017 Montpelier_WTP_Spring2017_FINAL-1-web - Page 8

WE THE PEOPLE It’s not African American history. REBECCA GILMORE COLEMAN FINDS HER ROOTS Inspired by Alex Haley’s Roots, an entire generation of African Americans in the 1970s became more interested in their ancestral history. One of those people, Rebecca Gilmore Coleman, a native of Orange, Virginia, would grow to feature prominently in the creation and development of Montpelier’s active, national descendant community. Gilmore’s family cabin, across the street from the Montpelier gates, was built by her great-grandfather, George Gilmore, a freedman and former Montpelier slave. Though the cabin had been there since 1873, Coleman didn’t learn of her connection until the 1980s. The cabin was neglected and fell into disarray until 2001, when Coleman lobbied The Montpelier Foundation, then taking over operation of Montpelier, to investigate and restore the Gilmore Cabin. Her efforts caught the attention of Matt Reeves, Montpelier’s Director of Archaeology and Landscape Restoration, and reconstruction began 8 soon after. The Gilmore Cabin reopened in 2005 as a permanent installation of Montpelier. The partnership between Reeves and Coleman didn’t end there. The two founded the Orange County African American Historical Society (OCAAHS), and worked rigorously to expand the reach of Montpelier’s descendant engagement. Today, engagement with the Montpelier Descendants Community includes archaeological programs, reunions, and collaboration with Montpelier on its African American interpretation. “Over the course of the last 10 years, as an educator, as a researcher, and as someone who is very much interested in her own ancestral roots and family history, I’ve found that developing relationships with people at Montpelier, at many levels, has been rewarding,” explains Patrice Grimes, Montpelier Descendants Community member and UVA Curry School of Education professor.