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Slave reunion committee chair has Montpelier ties
Great-granddaughter of freed Montpelier slave key organizer for slave descendants reunion

 Rebecca Gilmore Coleman is the great-grandaughter of George Gilmore, a slave who became a free man.
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Date published: 6/5/2007

By Rob Hedelt

WHEN the Montpelier Slave Descendants Reunion kicks off this weekend at the Orange County home of President James Madison, there will be no shortage of experts.

John Hope Franklin, a world-renowned scholar and author of "From Slavery to Freedom," will be the keynote speaker Saturday morning.

Dr. Bruce Jackson of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell and The African-American DNA Roots Project, is attending to collect DNA samples from those interested in tracing their roots back to West African tribes.

But the Reunion Committee chair isn't a scholar from far away.

She's Orange resident and native Rebecca Gilmore Coleman, president of the The Orange County African-American Historical Society, one of the key organizations behind the event.

Her tie to Montpelier is strong.

This great-granddaughter of a slave emancipated from Montpelier donated her ancestor's cabin and small farm to the foundation that runs the historic site.

George Gilmore was born a slave at Montpelier around 1810. He built the cabin in 1872, after his emancipation.

According to Montpelier's Web site, "the Gilmore Cabin and Farm is believed to be the first freedman's site in the nation to be preserved and opened to the public to interpret the transition from slavery to freedom for African-Americans in this country."

When I talked with this dedicated Orange resident a while back, she said the discussion of slave history is one that was once difficult for the black community to have.

"For so long and so many, it was a painful history," she said.

But Alex Haley's book and miniseries, "Roots" helped turn that around, creating interest and pride and sparking research by slave descendants.

It happened for her, as well.

For many years before she helped create the The Orange County African-American Historical Society in 2000, Coleman was busy working as an administrator for AT&T in Albemarle County and raising a family.

She'd heard a bit of family history, but didn't really talk to her father in detail about lineage to slave days until she was grown.

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