The new site manager for the Historic Latta Plantation in North Carolina clearly didn’t understand his Juneteenth assignment. With one event, Ian Campbell, who is Black, proved the problem with ignoring historical accuracy in education. It’s also a reminder about why maybe plantation tourism should not exist.
The now-deleted event included an evening with the newly homeless “Massa” recounting his experiences. Appearing sympathetic to the former slave owner and his employees, an advertisement for the event also highlighted the newly unemployed overseer.
In a rambling post on the plantation’s homepage, Campbell refused to apologize for the event and the promotion in a rambling post on Latta’s homepage. Blaming “yellow journalism” and online outrage, Campbell insists he is committed to educating people and pointed to the ruin of a free event.
The response is riddled with inconsistencies with Campbell insisting white supremacy will not be a part of his work, while also claiming that it is “pointless” to tell the story of newly freed Black people without telling the stories of former slave owners and overseers.
He continued to disparage and distort the legacy of newly freed Black people.
“Those formerly enslaved are now freedmen and have taken over the massa’s house, the house they toiled in seven days a week or in many cases on other plantations even built. They are now living high on the hog, bottom rail on top massa,” wrote Campbell.
Whether Campbell realizes it or not, his approach does more harm than good and upholds white supremacy. The entire premise of the event was a huge fail, and not grounded in actual history.
Having lives intertwined with their oppressors does not mean that “Massa” and his overseer need to be positioned as central figures in a Juneteenth celebration. To cast white owners and overseers as refugees or the victims of an economic downturn is disrespectful and racist.
Black or white, the impact is still the same. It really doesn’t matter what event Campbell thought he was doing. And this event allegedly flew under everyone’s radar, which raises other questions about programming at Latta, including the Civil War soldier summer camp.
Drawing unwanted scrutiny to itself, the North Carolina “living history” farm could lose support from Mecklenburg County and the city of Huntersville. Local news reported both the city and Mecklenburg County were “reviewing their ties” to Latta Plantation.
In a statement, the county stated its commitment to diversity and said it had a zero-tolerance policy toward programs that do not embrace equity and diversity.
Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles said in a statement that the Latta Plantation should have “known better.” From Campbell’s statement, it doesn’t seem like he nor the plantation has a clue about what it means to represent the lives of enslaved Black people or how to commemorate their freedom.
A description of the Civil War Soldier’s Life program on the plantation’s website says the program is “taken from a viewpoint that neither favors nor discredits, this program discusses the political, social, and military aspects of this tragic conflict.”
Revisionist historical re-enactments are not new. The south is full of them. But the focus on empathy with southern planters and their white employees speaks to a larger issue.
In March, a North Carolina school district came under fire for mock tweets from students promoting slavery. Another historical role-playing event, “gone wrong,” these incidents are more common than one would think for the 21st century.
Whether in a classroom or on a plantation, teaching history needs more than lip service to cultural sensitivity. And while some plantations have “evolved,” there’s clearly more work to do.
Like the Whitney in Louisiana, few plantations center the lives and experiences of formerly enslaved Black people. The Washington Post recently highlighted efforts by the Whitney to work with descendants in figuring out programming that directly supports descendants of those formerly enslaved on the site. Both Middleton Place in South Carolina and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Virginia award partial scholarships to descendants of those once enslaved on the plantations.
A $2,000 to $5,000 scholarship is not reparations but represents a shift in the way plantations exist beyond tourist attractions. Joy Banner, the founder of the Descendant Project, told the Washington Post she would ultimately like to see a transfer of land ownership or a land conservancy that would directly benefit descendants of those enslaved on the Whitney Plantation.
“There are as many different forms of reparations as you can think of because healing looks different in every community,” Banner told the Washington Post. “It’s my calling from God to do what I can to protect the descendant community and help us grow.”
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‘Massa’? Plantation’s Black Overseer Refuses To Apologize For Juneteenth Debacle was originally published on newsone.com