County supervisors’ vote to support a letter asking Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to designate the former home of President James Monroe, Oak Hill just south of Leesburg, as a National Historic Site led to strong words at their meeting June 21.
Supervisor Juli E. Briskman (D-Algonkian) was the lone dissenting vote.
“I appreciate the important role James Monroe played in our state, in the liberation and formation of our nation, but we should not gloss over the fact that he was one of the most prolific slaveholders in our nation,” she said. “It was through owning slaves, and likely mortgaging the value and capacity of their labor and their bodies that Monroe and his family generated extraordinary, wealth, and that was passed down from generation to generation.”
She expressed concern the letter doesn’t do enough about including the Monroe family’s history of slavery.
“I know this is just a letter, but it may just be the last time that we have an influence over what might be a national park, and it needs to interpret the inconvenient history of James Monroe,” she said. “I can’t support even starting this initiative without a sentence or a few words about the slaves that were working on this plantation.”
Most supervisors expressed their support for the letter, but Briskman’s comments were also met with heated words from County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large), who said, “if you think you care more about this than Supervisor [Sylvia R.] Glass (D-Broad Run), than Supervisor [Koran T.] Saines (D-Sterling), or I do, you’re wrong,” referring to the three Black supervisors on the board. She said Briskman’s suggestions would discourage the park service from taking the property.
“I don’t need anybody, and I mean I don’t need anybody, telling me what it was to be an enslaved human being. Don’t need that for a hot damn second. Wow is right—Wow is right,” she said, over Briskman’s startled objections. “There are times you have to let us lead. There are times there are ways to be an ally and there are ways to be so far out in front of us, you’re doing us damage. This is a doing us damage moment. We want the property so the story can be told. The most important thing is the history get told.”
Supervisors voted 8-1, Briskman opposed, to endorse the letter. Following the vote, Randall declared “I need a five-minute break” and gaveled the meeting into recess, striding out of the boardroom.
With the vote, supervisors support a letter from the current owners of the 1,200-acre Oak Hill Farm near Aldie, the DeLashmutt family who have owned it for four generations. If Haaland designates it a National Historic Site, that will enable the National Park Service to acquire and preserve the property as a national park open to the public. The land is already a National Historic Landmark.