My first forays into African American LGBTQ history were purely for self-edification. As an out African American man, I sought out whatever information I could find, from novels, to anthologies, to biographies, to documentaries. In many ways, I was looking for a sense of community, and a sense of belonging as an LGBTQ African American through the information I sought. Yet, it wasn’t until I started working in historic preservation that I began asking different questions, and seeking new information. Though I began my work in history by following the traditional academic path, historic preservation proved to be a revelation for me. I began to understand more fully the power and importance of visiting historic places. I took note of the impact on people that historic sites had. I also saw how academic history and historic preservation could work in tandem to broaden our overall understanding of the past.
I remember visiting Montpelier, the home of our fourth president, James Madison, and I had something of an epiphany. As a docent conducted our tour of the grounds, she spoke of the praise the Madison family received regarding the beauty of their estate. As I looked toward the mountains in the distance, and did a visual sweep of the manicured lawns, I turned around and looked at the home itself (it was in the midst of a major renovation at that time). Then, it hit me, as though I was struck by lightning, that everything I was taking in had been the work of the enslaved Africans who were owned by the Madison family. Read more » [PDF 2.8 MB]