JMU opens exhibit honoring honoring former slave of James Madison

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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) — After James Madison University opened their newest residence hall this past fall, an exhibit honoring Paul Jennings is now open for the community.

Parts of the exhibit include quotes, facts, and photos of Paul Jennings.

Jennings was a slave of James Madison's family during Madison's presidency, and when the university was naming the new building, they thought it would be a great way to honor Jennings for his accomplishments.

After Madison’s death, Jennings would go on to earn his freedom, work in the Pension Office, raise a family and purchase a home in Washington. Jennings passed away at the age of 75 in 1874.

The exhibit is located on the first floor of Paul Jennings Hall and includes quotes, facts, and photos of Jennings.

JMU worked with members of the Jennings family and Montpelier (James Madison's historic home in central Virginia) to develop the display.

"Our hope is this space will be an educational space so that if faculty or teachers in the community want to bring students here to study and learn, they're able to do that," Caitlyn Read, a university spokesperson, said. "There are spaces, classroom spaces that would support that kind of endeavor that are open to the community for their use."

Margaret Jordan, Paul Jennings' great-great-great granddaughter, was in attendance when the building opened and said she think Jennings would feel honored to have his name on a campus of higher learning.

"I was just so incredibly honored for our family when I learned that it was going to be done," Jordan said. " When I really heard about it, I thought, 'Oh my God, what a wonderful honor for him and for our family.'"

The public can walk in the front entrance of the building from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. from Monday to Friday to check out the exhibit.

Karl Mulvehill, a student living in the building, said as a history major, he enjoys reading the facts off the walls and the university making an effort to reflect on the past.

"I think it's great, it's just a way to reach out and show all the history that Harrisonburg has, that JMU has as a college," Mulvehill said.

Although the public is invited to check out the space, the community is restricted to the first floor of the building and is not permitted upstairs where students live.

As people have already started to check out the exhibit, Mulvehill said he still feels safe.

"Whenever you walk up to the building, you have to swipe a key to get in," Mulvehill said. "Then from there, you have to walk over to wherever your building is and then you have to get a physical metal key and you have to use that on your door to get into that."

Read said they are open to local teachers bringing students to the space to learn; she said they ask you to just let the university know if you plan on bringing a large group.

The residence hall can accommodate 500 JMU students, with a learning commons, great room and grab and go dining option.