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Montpelier depot takes visitors to segregated past
Montpelier Station train depot is restored to its 1910-era form, including separate waiting areas for 'colored' and 'white'

 Visitors are reflected in and seen through a window looking into the segregated waiting room labeled 'Colored' at the newly renovated Montpelier train depot at James Madison's Montpelier in Orange County yesterday.
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Date published: 2/22/2010


Yesterday, African-Americans walked through the entrance marked "white" at the Montpelier train depot.

They weren't surprised that the space inside was larger than the one marked "colored." They had always known that was the case.

Separate, but not equal.

Annette Freeman grew up in South Carolina and lived through those days.

"I remember going into a colored section like that," the 77-year-old said. "I was about 10.

"It takes you back," she said after exiting the exhibit that opened yesterday on the grounds of Montpelier.

The Montpelier estate in Orange County was home to James Madison, the nation's fourth president, and later the duPont family.

William duPont bought the property in 1901 and built the train depot nine years later, following specifications dictated by racial segregation laws in place in Virginia and the South from the 1890s through the 1960s.

The Montpelier Foundation hired a master craftsman in 2008 to faithfully restore the depot to re-create a chapter of American history many would prefer to forget.

The exhibit in the depot was dedicated yesterday to the memory of Russell Coffin Childs, a former Montpelier project director, who advocated the restoration of the depot to tell the story of segregation.

Ruth Long, a retired educator and member of the Orange County African-American Historical Society, quoted Virginia native Carter G. Woodson in making the case for remembering such painful chapters of the nation's past.

"Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history," he said.

"Montpelier ensures we won't forget our forbears," Long said.

The restored depot "tells the larger story of the struggles of Virginians, of African-Americans in this country at large," she said.

Montpelier officials noted that exactly 200 years after Madison--a slave holder--took office as president, the nation installed Barack Obama as its first black president.

Keynote speaker Juan Williams, a journalist and author who has written about the civil rights movement, noted the significant changes that have taken place in the nation since Madison, known as the "father of the Constitution," wrote the document meant to insure personal freedoms.

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Prospect Heights Middle student Hannah Vaughn led the crowd of more than 200 at the Montpelier Train Depot dedication in singing the civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome."

The lyrics include:

We shall overcome.

We shall overcome.

We shall overcome some day.

Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe

We shall overcome some day.