Plantation Mystique
May 15, 2017 12:52 PM   Subscribe

The American landscape is dotted with places that witnessed enormous tragedies, and much like Flossenbürg they have now been absorbed into the everyday landscape. Unlike Flossenbürg, though, many of these American sites clumsily negotiate their dark heritage or simply ignore it in favor of aesthetically pleasant contemporary landscapes.
The Aesthetics of Bliss and Trauma in Plantation Weddings: archaeologist Paul Mullins continues his series on "dark tourism".
posted by Rumple (56 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
As a history-conscious Southerner I was horrified to learn one of my partner's best friends, by all accounts a sensible, sensitive, and quite liberal-minded guy from California, was getting married in a plantation house outside of New Orleans. But his bride-- a funny and by all accounts not unintelligent rocket scientist-- was moneyed Louisiana white, and so...

I looked on the plantation's website to see if there was any context to the house at all, but there was only shitty copy about how beautiful and historic it was. Local wedding attendees told me about the history of the place when I asked at the reception, stressing the architecture, the (white slave-owning) family that had lived there, how the building had been moved several times as the levees changed, even details about the floor. Literally everything except that this entire building was built by, on, and for, a people and an economic system that owned, abused, raped, and murdered Black people. At the time, I think I even said something to my partner about it was like hosting a graduation party at Dachau ("It's like, do they want their marriage to be cursed?")

So anyway all of that is a very long winded way of saying I'm glad that someone is talking about this, and thanks for the post.

(I also warned my partner in advance that the service staff at the venue were all almost certainly going to be Black, and I made my own private bet with myself that none of the guests would be. I was right about the guests, but none of the staff were Black either. I had about three seconds of feeling relieved about this. Maybe Black people understandably don't want to work on this site... And then it occurred to me, Or maybe the kind of people who develop a plantation to be a wedding venue only hire white people.)
posted by WidgetAlley at 1:09 PM on May 15, 2017 [70 favorites]


In related news: An unnamed company held its annual Halloween party at an Alabama plantation. Attendees were instructed to wear "period-appropriate" attire. The lone black employee took matters into his own hands... (CW: Gross language in Reddit screenshots.)
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:10 PM on May 15, 2017 [78 favorites]


Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively were married at Boone Hall in 2012; when Kyle Martino and Eva Amurri were married in nearby Charleston the year before, they opted for the non-plantation Confederate Home and College... with a Black Gospel Choir (Voices of Deliverance) performing during the ceremony and ushering guests into the reception.
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:27 PM on May 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


Oh, man, that dude's "period appropriate" attire. Wow.
posted by tobascodagama at 1:29 PM on May 15, 2017 [12 favorites]


In related news: An unnamed company held its annual Halloween party at an Alabama plantation. Attendees were instructed to wear "period-appropriate" attire. The lone black employee took matters into his own hands... (CW: Gross language in Reddit screenshots.)

Damnit. I was coming here to post that.
posted by leotrotsky at 1:30 PM on May 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


I was horrified when in New Orleans for a tech conference and the company I consulted with wanted to hold an event at a plantation. Because the company was British, and I thought they might not understand how incredibly loaded that decision was, I talked to the C level, and was able to get the event changed to a much less problematic venue. A goodly percent of their American employees were people not white, and I was gobsmacked that anyone would have a corporate event at a slave site.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 1:31 PM on May 15, 2017 [11 favorites]


The selling of plantation chic is pretty weird when you think about it, because slavery wasn't that long ago. I mean, the Civil War was 20 years into the reign of King Edward VII. The failure of elements the South to acknowledge their culpability (and to disguise it as 'tradition') is what allows this stuff to continue. It's like Japan with their war crimes, or the Turks with the Armenian genocide. But at least they've got the good taste not to base wedding themes on it.

Ironically often the plantations themselves do a pretty good job of highlighting the horrible aspects of slavery, but the folks in the tour groups often aren't interested in that. They want to see the big house.

A large part of the house tours I gave was narratives of men and women who dared to attempt escape from it, and so many museum visitors asked me, in all earnestness and surprise, why those men and women tried to escape: "They lived in a nice house here, and they weren't being beaten. Do we know why they wanted to leave?"
posted by leotrotsky at 1:44 PM on May 15, 2017 [18 favorites]


I also know Nice People who had their weddings at plantations. They would be horrified that I thought badly of it. They'd tell me about how not racist they are, how much they voted for Obama ... I can't overstate the degree to which otherwise kind white Southern people are capable of just not perceiving the wrongs in the soil of a plantation.

To me, the blood cries out from the ground, but I remember when I was young and had a separate space for that understanding, next to which I could perceive a misty glamour. But even so I had a hard time visiting them. I spent a night or two at a smaller plantation as a child, and although I can't tell you I was very woke then, I was terrified of the kind of ghosts that would live there. Everything bore a terrible curse and it was hard to breathe in the silence.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:46 PM on May 15, 2017 [28 favorites]


"You wouldn't believe the whining we got from some social justice warriors over our historical Srebrenica themed wedding. Some people just need to make everything political."
posted by leotrotsky at 1:50 PM on May 15, 2017 [15 favorites]


It's like Japan with their war crimes, or the Turks with the Armenian genocide. But at least they've got the good taste not to base wedding themes on it.

they just skywrite genocide denial over Manhattan on the anniversary
posted by indubitable at 1:59 PM on May 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


If you ever think you are not misanthropic enough, go on a plantation tour and your fellow tourists will make you despise every characteristic of human kind.
posted by Keith Talent at 1:59 PM on May 15, 2017 [11 favorites]


I'm not sure if you're aware but here in the New Orleans area there's a new museum to visit - Whitney Plantation which is devoted to depicting The Life Of A Slave From Cradle To The Tomb.

I can't imagine the fortified ignorance a [rich white] couple would have to have to ask to get married there.
posted by komara at 2:01 PM on May 15, 2017 [6 favorites]


Great piece of writing, with a lot to sink into. I recommend following some of the links. The Collectors Weekly article, "Why Aren't Stories Like '12 Years a Slave' Told at Southern Plantation Museums?" is a particularly good piece about which stories are told at and about plantations. Interesting fact:

Jennifer Eichstedt, a sociology professor at Humboldt State University in California, and Stephen Small, an African American studies professor at University of California, Berkeley, toured and analyzed 122 former plantations in the South more than a decade ago. [...] They concluded that a majority of the plantation-house museums they toured were guilty of “symbolic annihilation,” [...] focusing exclusively on the lives of the enslavers, failing to talk about slavery or the enslaved, or mentioning the enslaved only in cursory ways, referring to them with euphemisms such as “servants,” or using passive voice to talk about the enslaved people’s labor.
posted by Emily's Fist at 2:03 PM on May 15, 2017 [16 favorites]


I really liked his interchanging the use of the word "slave" with the word "captive." That really drives home the fact that they were prisoners, not employees.
posted by irisclara at 2:32 PM on May 15, 2017 [12 favorites]


> I mean, the Civil War was 20 years into the reign of King Edward VII.

...Huh?
posted by languagehat at 2:40 PM on May 15, 2017 [8 favorites]


...and so many museum visitors asked me, in all earnestness and surprise, why those men and women tried to escape: "They lived in a nice house here, and they weren't being beaten. Do we know why they wanted to leave?"

Sweet jeebus. I can't even...
posted by Thorzdad at 2:40 PM on May 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


"The etiology of Auschwitz—to some a diabolical, perhaps freakish excrescence, which vanished from the face of the earth with the destruction of the crematoria in 1945—is actually embedded deeply in a cultural tradition that stretches back to the Middle Passage from the coast of Africa, and beyond, to the enforced servitude in ancient Greece and Rome."

—William Styron, introduction to "The Cunning of History"

"But despite these criticisms and Styron’s own impressions of them, I will argue, the writer’s race and religion were not the main issues at stake in these controversies, neither for his critics nor for Styron himself. Rather, the most important, and most contested, element of both novels was Styron’s acceptance and advancement of certain accounts of slavery and Holocaust history—best represented by historians Stanley Elkins ([1959] 1963) and Richard Rubenstein ([1978] 2001) respectively—that framed these histories as phenomena driven more by economic concerns than by racial ones."

I wonder how much money people pay to marry at an old Plantation.
posted by clavdivs at 2:41 PM on May 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


I think we need to just all agree to call them "slave labor camps" rather than "plantations," as in The Half Has Never Been Told.
posted by praemunire at 2:52 PM on May 15, 2017 [30 favorites]


i disagree, camps are places for people "relocating". The plantation held people in bondage at one site and it was expected that slaves were to reproduce making more slaves thus perpetuating the system, were as Flossenburg, like S-21 in Phenom Penh, were temporary places of imprisonment and death. Perhaps a better comparison would be the government sanctioned reservation system that this country implemented on the native people.

"A plantation is a large-scale farm that specializes in cash crops. The crops grown include cotton, coffee, tea, cocoa, sugar cane, sisal, oil seeds, oil palms, rubber trees, and fruits. Protectionist policies and natural comparative advantage have sometimes contributed to determining where plantations were located.

Among the earliest examples of plantations were the latifundia of the Roman Empire, which produced large quantities of wine and olive oil for export. Plantation agriculture grew rapidly with the increase in international trade and the development of a worldwide economy that followed the expansion of European colonial empires. Like every economic activity, it has changed over time. Earlier forms of plantation agriculture were associated with large disparities of wealth and income, foreign ownership and political influence, and exploitative social systems such as indentured labour and slavery."
posted by clavdivs at 3:08 PM on May 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


I think there's a big difference between romanticizing Gone with the Wind life with your Southern wedding and hosting a wedding or other event at a historical plantation, which subsidizes the preservation of our American history.

Plantations are also important historical artifacts. Plantations made America an economically viable experiment. It funded everything, which was why the North compromised so long, and why they didn't just allow secession. They are the source of a profound debt that can never be repaid, and even liberals try to minimize the scope of their significance by painting them as a Southern problem.

They can only teach us as much as we are willing to acknowledge, but it's clear America isn't done learning from them. Even at a basic level that archaeologists are continuing to uncover more about the slaves that have been whitewashed from our current understanding of history.

Hosting events are a great source of funding to subsidize this work. Virtually all historic sites benefit from that, regardless of whether or not the event highlights the historical significance of that site.
posted by politikitty at 3:20 PM on May 15, 2017 [6 favorites]


I'm not sure if you're aware but here in the New Orleans area there's a new museum to visit - Whitney Plantation which is devoted to depicting The Life Of A Slave From Cradle To The Tomb.

I can't imagine the fortified ignorance a [rich white] couple would have to have to ask to get married there.


The Whitney Plantation previously.
The Whitney Plantation previouslier.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 3:32 PM on May 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


Obligatory link to the Ask a Slave web series.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:34 PM on May 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


politikitty: "Hosting events are a great source of funding to subsidize this work. Virtually all historic sites benefit from that, regardless of whether or not the event highlights the historical significance of that site."

This is the nihilism inherent in capitalism. Please consider that there's more important things than "subsidizing" these sites, such as respecting the terrible tragedy that these sites represent.
posted by TypographicalError at 3:41 PM on May 15, 2017 [34 favorites]


I think there's a big difference between romanticizing Gone with the Wind life with your Southern wedding and hosting a wedding or other event at a historical plantation, which subsidizes the preservation of our American history.

This presupposes that none of your invitees will be uncomfortable with the setting and the disjunction between the character of the event and the history of the place that you're holding it at, which is kind of a telling assumption.
posted by invitapriore at 3:43 PM on May 15, 2017 [25 favorites]


I went on a plantation tour when I was in Louisiana - at the Whitney Plantation - which presented a slave's point of view of plantation life. It was a complete eye opener for me - not just the horrors of what happened on the plantations (which are pretty fucking horrible) - but the institutionalized industrial nature of slavery. There were states that did not use slaves, but bred slaves, states that made the cages and transports that kept slaves imprisoned, and states (New York) that supported the financial aspects of slavery - insurance policy, loans, etc...

That completely stunned me - it was how the entire state of government and industry turned their efforts on dehumanizing and extracting every last usable profit out of people. And it did not stop with the abolition of slavery - former slaves continued to live and work on the plantation up till the 70's due to a lack of education, inhumanely low wages, and deductions for "company" expenses - that's why the slave quarters at many of these plantations were in such salvageable condition.

It is incomprehensible to me, now, the level of denial and willful ignorance that occurs with the romanticizing plantation homes and life. (I cannot tell you how much the tour effected me - and it has really turned around my thinking regarding First Nations issues here in Canada). The equivalent would be visiting Auschwitz for the beautiful gardens - cause you know - free labour.

And yes - I did pull out a Nazi reference....
posted by helmutdog at 3:56 PM on May 15, 2017 [38 favorites]


...and so many museum visitors asked me, in all earnestness and surprise, why those men and women tried to escape: "They lived in a nice house here, and they weren't being beaten. Do we know why they wanted to leave?"

That part really got to me, too. Even if your captor never beat you, raped you, tortured you, overworked you, starved you, killed you, separated you from your loved ones, or made you witness the abuse of others; just knowing that he could do so with complete impunity whenever the mood happened to strike him would be sheer torture in and of itself. How lacking in empathy would a person have to be to not be able to imagine the sheer horror of that situation? I guess some defense mechanism must be kicking in that keeps them from making that connection?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:00 PM on May 15, 2017 [27 favorites]


cntl +f "Whitney Plantation" found
cntl + f "ask a slave" found! sick.

Let's go on a Hidden History Tour! Leon Waters is the man, and a scholar who has been telling these histories for a generation or more.

Dr Erin Greenwald is the Doctor. Her recent Historic New Orleans Collection show, Purchased Lives, is travelling, and is a must see. She is an excellent lecturer, as well.

And what do you know? Dr Greenwald gets a shout from the recent LEH genius panel on the monuments.

Is it ironic or fitting that both the Whitney Plantation and part of Purchased Lives are funded by local real estate barons who are aggravating the housing crisis in New Orleans?
posted by eustatic at 4:41 PM on May 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


> I wonder how much money people pay to marry at an old Plantation.

Taking that question at face value for a moment:

• Boone Hall Plantation in Mt Pleasant, SC: Roughly $25k for up to 125 guests.
• Magnolia Plantation in Charleston, SC: A net cost of $10-13k for up to 100 guests.
• Five-ish plantations in Lousiana ranging from $3-18k for 50 guests.

You can change search filters in the third link to look up plantations in other states, the prices are based on an assumption of 50 guests. The price spread is pretty broad but it looks like the bottom end is in the ballpark of $60 per guest, not including booze, lodging, other facilities or services.
posted by ardgedee at 4:48 PM on May 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


That completely stunned me - it was how the entire state of government and industry turned their efforts on dehumanizing and extracting every last usable profit out of people. And it did not stop with the abolition of slavery - former slaves continued to live and work on the plantation up till the 70's due to a lack of education, inhumanely low wages, and deductions for "company" expenses - that's why the slave quarters at many of these plantations were in such salvageable condition.

The essential and necessary condition of this—the wide acceptance of the lowered value of the lives of Black Americans—continues to this day in numerous ways, great and small; from the impossibility of convicting cops/jittery white homeowners who shoot Black people (as one can't prove to a white jury, primed with cherry-picked photos from the victim's social-media feed, that a white man might not have reasonably feared for his life), through to that statistic in Christian Rudder's Dataclysm, breaking down online-dating reply rates on a large data set and finding that, all other things being equal, being Black American makes one 20% less likely to get a reply. (In the UK, this number is 3%.), through to cultural phenomena like “Obama's anger translator” which allude at this (angry Black people can scare White people, and bad things happen to Black people who scare White people.)
posted by acb at 4:48 PM on May 15, 2017 [10 favorites]


That completely stunned me - it was how the entire state of government and industry turned their efforts on dehumanizing and extracting every last usable profit out of people. And it did not stop with the abolition of slavery...

This is what I found most convincing about Ta-Nehisi's case for reparations article from a few years back. Once you understand how truly deep the rabbit hole goes, it's hard to escape the conclusion that full reparations would be the least we could do merely to start making up for our vile history.
posted by tobascodagama at 5:12 PM on May 15, 2017 [17 favorites]


I actually went to a plantation wedding in Lousiana about a month ago, it was really nice and quite beautiful. A caveat here is that I'm african American and my entire family had qualms about getting married at a former plantation. We discussed it before, during and after. I walked through the halls of that house and thought about how 200 years ago I wouldn't have been allowed to step inside and enjoy the luxuries of such a beautiful home. While I was constantly aware of the history of the plantation a part of me felt that while unorthodox it was in some ways fitting to have a black family host a wedding there, inside the house. What happened there was horrific but horrific things happened in lots of places but if had to refrain from going to places where horrific things happened to black people I suppose I wouldn't be going too many places .
posted by CosmicSeeker42 at 6:34 PM on May 15, 2017 [27 favorites]


It is incomprehensible to me, now, the level of denial and willful ignorance that occurs with the romanticizing plantation homes and life. (I cannot tell you how much the tour effected me - and it has really turned around my thinking regarding First Nations issues here in Canada). The equivalent would be visiting Auschwitz for the beautiful gardens - cause you know - free labour.

I'm in the camp where I can't even think of a good reason to even leave them standing. Raze the buildings and distribute the property at will to some better use, in memory of what used to stand there.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 7:00 PM on May 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


"A plantation is a large-scale farm that specializes in cash crops. The crops grown include cotton, coffee, tea, cocoa, sugar cane, sisal, oil seeds, oil palms, rubber trees, and fruits. Protectionist policies and natural comparative advantage have sometimes contributed to determining where plantations were located.

Among the earliest examples of plantations were the latifundia of the Roman Empire, which produced large quantities of wine and olive oil for export. Plantation agriculture grew rapidly with the increase in international trade and the development of a worldwide economy that followed the expansion of European colonial empires. Like every economic activity, it has changed over time. Earlier forms of plantation agriculture were associated with large disparities of wealth and income, foreign ownership and political influence, and exploitative social systems such as indentured labour and slavery."
This passage explains exactly why the word "plantation" is fundamentally inadequate. It's a farm! A farm that specializes in crops, that are grown! It is located by "protectionist" policies (no other laws are really relevant or fundamentally make the system possible). Again! Crops being produced! Agriculture growing! All these sentences, scraped and scoured clean of words like: captives. Beatings. Rapes. Murders. Children sold away from their parents! Lifelong theft. Squalor. No education. Precious little health care. Only in the very last four words in the passage do we hear about that phenomenon, and only in its most abstract sense.

This is the rhetoric deliberately designed to erase such horrors which makes it possible for white folks to casually use these sites of concentrated horror as lovely backdrops for their damn weddings.
posted by praemunire at 7:01 PM on May 15, 2017 [17 favorites]


"I also know Nice People who had their weddings at plantations. They would be horrified that I thought badly of it. They'd tell me about how not racist they are, how much they voted for Obama ... I can't overstate the degree to which otherwise kind white Southern people are capable of just not perceiving the wrongs in the soil of a plantation. "

GET OUT
posted by klangklangston at 7:38 PM on May 15, 2017 [9 favorites]


I'm in the camp where I can't even think of a good reason to even leave them standing.

Having family who survived, I'm in the camp of salt the earth and let nothing grow there forever so that we always remember what atrocities were committed in this place.
posted by Sophie1 at 7:45 PM on May 15, 2017 [10 favorites]


"This passage explains exactly why the word "plantation" is fundamentally inadequate. It's a farm! A farm that specializes in crops, that are grown! It is located by "protectionist" policies (no other laws are really relevant or fundamentally make the system possible). Again! Crops being produced! Agriculture growing! All these sentences, scraped and scoured clean of words like: captives. Beatings. Rapes. Murders. Children sold away from their parents! Lifelong theft. Squalor. No education. Precious little health care. Only in the very last four words in the passage do we hear about that phenomenon, and only in its most abstract sense. "

That passage is vague by virtue of trying to describe ALL plantations, including a great many that were not in America, and that had really different relationships to slavery and colonialism than we have. American plantations were industrial-scale slave farms; trying to capture that as well as an Indonesian rubber plantation with the same word is always going to be inadequate.

But hell, I don't even eat at Soup Plantation because I think that's a fucked up concept in America, so…
posted by klangklangston at 7:47 PM on May 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


That passage is vague by virtue of trying to describe ALL plantations, including a great many that were not in America, and that had really different relationships to slavery and colonialism than we have.

Except that the first example is "Among the earliest examples of plantations were the latifundia of the Roman Empire, which produced large quantities of wine and olive oil for export."

Which were usually worked by slaves (though not always). Granted, there are differences between the forms of slavery, but the opportunity is right there at the beginning to get that in there. You could start by saying that latifunda were worked by slaves or the lowest free workers, then use that as a jumping off point.

Also, though this is pure pedantry, it doesn't describe all plantations. The plantations of Ireland are completely different, though also shitty with lasting consequences.
posted by Vortisaur at 2:42 AM on May 16, 2017 [2 favorites]


[One deleted. Please don't post links to random people's wedding photos, etc., especially where it's super easy to find their identity info. Though I understand it was probably not your intention, we aren't going to be encouraging doxxing or harassment here.]
posted by taz (staff) at 3:44 AM on May 16, 2017 [2 favorites]


But hell, I don't even eat at Soup Plantation because I think that's a fucked up concept in America, so…

Was the Soup Nazi skit based on this?
posted by acb at 4:27 AM on May 16, 2017


There's a famous pineapple farm in Hawaii, a tourist favorite, called the Dole Plantation. This makes perfect sense to me, since I think of the word as being tied as much to large, dawn-of-the-industrialization-of-agriculture type farms of the early 20th Century, with company stores and all, as the Old South farms. Many of these were also located in the South. The ones in the Miss. Delta, a region settled largely after the Civil War, initially attracted workers via sharecropping. The books Rising Tide, about the 1927 Mississippi River flood, and the Most Southern Place on Earth, an historical look at the Delta region, cover this pretty thoroughly.
posted by raysmj at 8:42 AM on May 16, 2017


raysmj: "There's a famous pineapple farm in Hawaii, a tourist favorite, called the Dole Plantation. This makes perfect sense to me, since I think of the word as being tied as much to large, dawn-of-the-industrialization-of-agriculture type farms of the early 20th Century, with company stores and all, as the Old South farms."

You certainly don't know, but this is wildly offensive. Sanford Dole was a key part of stealing Hawaii from its natives, who absolutely were not on-board with annexation. Please don't use the Dole plantation as an example of a "good" plantation.
posted by TypographicalError at 8:54 AM on May 16, 2017 [9 favorites]


The early 20th Century ones in the the South weren't examples of "good" plantations either, although a few were better-than-previous early on. Just noting that they all weren't examples of slavery-based, antebellum agriculture. The word is associated with large-scale, single-crop agriculture and as much with industrial-era agriculture as other eras. Now, feel free to resume your sense of outrage.
posted by raysmj at 9:03 AM on May 16, 2017


Dole also relied heavily on immigrant labour. Paid, sure, but very, very poorly. And their plantations are also responsible for the ecological devastation of utterly unique habitats. Definitely not something to celebrate.

Slave plantations are uniquely horrible places, but that doesn't make non-slave plantations any better.
posted by tobascodagama at 9:03 AM on May 16, 2017


Funny, I thought we were just talking about the definition of the word, not which one was "better." The books I suggested will tell you plenty about the problems with the agriculture of that era, but never mind that, I guess.
posted by raysmj at 9:06 AM on May 16, 2017


[Guys, maybe let's drop the irritable "there are other plantations" sidebar here? The article's about weddings at southern slave-holding plantations.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:11 AM on May 16, 2017 [5 favorites]


Yes, that would be nice. I was also thinking when reading this that the actual Epps Planation House , known from the final half of "12 Years a Slave," wasn't that prototypical, Greek Revival Old South type. No one would want to host a wedding at it. The movie was taking on the mythology of the Old South as much as anything else, and at times seemed to be acknowledging the swooning romance of the natural and built surroundings. I was struck at how beautifully the swamps were filmed, already. It was a weird feeling. I'd love to see a discussion of that.
posted by raysmj at 9:26 AM on May 16, 2017 [2 favorites]




A liberal Jewish couple I know were recently married on a plantation near Charleston. Like some of the other posters, I was a bit gobsmacked that my leftish friends would do such a thing (she's from the old Jewish families of the area -- sidenote: as a diaspora Jew myself,
I always hope to see the cosmopolitan, human rights focused side of Jewry, but: not always! See here for a look at the complex history of Southern Jews) .

Because the place had no remaining plantation house -- it burned not long ago -- it was less obviously creepy than some venues might have been, but the basic awfulness of slave labor horror factory as cute wedding venue was pretty inescapable. Sure: American soil is steeped in blood, but these sites, especially, are redolent of it. Driving back from the nice plantation district (sigh) through the desperately poor black neighborhoods of modern Charleston -- and then cutting through the prettified tourist center filled with wealthy mostly white vacationers-- was a pretty deep demonstration of how rapacious the system still is.

Those looking for more than an aesthetic response to the ongoing horror might consider donating to Charleston Legal Access, which a law school classmate runs -- they're trying to do serious anti-poverty law in a pretty difficult setting and are chipping away at the lived consequences of this history.
posted by SandCounty at 4:36 PM on May 16, 2017 [2 favorites]


If there had been any justice after the Civil War, most of these plantations would have been confiscated as spoils of war and turned into Freedmen's Bureau schools, but I guess Andrew Johnson made that impossible.
posted by jonp72 at 6:39 PM on May 16, 2017 [5 favorites]


hosting a wedding or other event at a historical plantation, which subsidizes the preservation of our American history.

I respect where you're coming from, but after reading the article and looking at some of the linked pictures of artistic shots in slave quarters I can't go along. The means of raising the money is so inherently antithetical to the goals that it'd be like the UNCF funding itself through minstrel shows.
posted by mark k at 10:03 PM on May 16, 2017 [4 favorites]


I don't think we need to destroy plantations or stop visiting them entirely, and I don't think it's useful to frame the conversation in that kind of either/or way. The articles linked make an elegant case that the problem isn't the existence of plantations as tourist sites, the problem is the way the stories of plantations are told and presented. Millions of tourists visit Holocaust sites and museums because they see them as important and meaningful places because of their dark history, not in spite of it; plantations can be the same.

Plantations have the potential to tell the story of enslaved people in a moving and respectful way that can help Americans make sense of our history, paying respect to the ancestors of African-Americans while also helping white Americans confront our legacy instead of concealing it.

I think that goal is incompatible with plantations marketing themselves as wedding destinations, but not incompatible with their existence as places for tourists to visit.
posted by Emily's Fist at 7:51 AM on May 17, 2017 [7 favorites]


most of these plantations would have been confiscated as spoils of war and turned into Freedmen's Bureau schools, but I guess Andrew Johnson made that impossible.

Honestly, I think this is the source of a large rift among white Southerners. Because that first half happened. Much of the South was thoroughly destroyed. They paid with everything they had. It's just that it either evaporated or was paid to the Union, who utterly failed to distribute those spoils equitably to those harmed most by slavery.

I clicked on the link of Louisiana Plantation weddings. And it stood out how few options there are for genuinely large weddings. One is a golf course that doesn't even have the word Plantation in their name. And I think that's what this outrage leads to. Not a genuine discussion about our dark history. Many of the Plantations have quietly sold off their land and shrunk to the size it barely holds a 100 person wedding. And if they haven't, it's because they underwent a quiet rebranding, continuing the erasure of the horror that financed this nation.
posted by politikitty at 11:35 AM on May 18, 2017


Because that first half happened. Much of the South was thoroughly destroyed. They paid with everything they had. It's just that it either evaporated or was paid to the Union, who utterly failed to distribute those spoils equitably to those harmed most by slavery.

Oh, the "Union" failed to do that? THE UNION failed to do that? The Southern political structure didn't fight every step of Reconstruction and enact a series of laws that were explicitly designed to return the antebellum balance of power?

I really feel bad for those relics of racism and treason that are only big enough to hold a 100 person wedding or don't even have the word "Plantation" in their name anymore. That is clearly way too much punishment for being built on the bodies of generations of slaves and starting a war that killed millions. Where can I send a check to apologize to those poor, poor people whose ancestral lands are now golf courses?
posted by Etrigan at 11:47 AM on May 18, 2017 [5 favorites]


That's my point! We pretend that the real villains were the slave owning plantation owners, when they could only exist with consent of the rest of society. That America only bent their morals that far because they enjoyed the riches slave labor provided. But when they lost their wealth and power, the support for racism was still firmly entrenched. Hell, it flourished in the North as well. But fascism is exacerbated by economic insecurity, so not only was the South more desensitized to dehumanizing blacks, but there was an entire population looking for a scapegoat.

I don't see how it's better that we erase the history of slavery completely and just call it a historic golf course with it's pre-war architecture completely devoid of context.

The original owners are not the ones diminished by that decision.
posted by politikitty at 12:31 PM on May 18, 2017


We pretend that the real villains were the slave owning plantation owners, when they could only exist with consent of the rest of society.

I'm pretty comfortable with calling the people who owned slaves the "real villains" while also maintaining some level of disdain for people who did not own slaves but still were part of the society that allowed them, especially given that one of those sets of people decided to commit treason to prop it up and the other side said "Nah."

Your both-sides-do-it-ism might fly a little farther if you weren't doing it in explicit defense of plantations hosting weddings.
posted by Etrigan at 12:51 PM on May 18, 2017 [1 favorite]


Dude! You are justifying a wedding at a plantation, as long as we call it a golf course and ignore the history. That's taking an injustice and doubling down.

Calling it a plantation and maintaining that tether to the past creates some accountability.

But we should note that as we move away from the civil war, these sites are financially able to shift from extravagance porn to becoming more vocal about the extent of horror they oversaw. Because their duty to the past is always hampered by the willingness of the public to acknowledge it. It says a lot that the Whitney Plantation was a vanity project finished in the 21st century because both tourists and Southerners would like to forget their past. And historians are kinda hampered by funding.

One of my history professors was dedicated to creating a genealogical history of Texas slaves. Because even after all this time, it is work that is left unfinished. An embarrassing part of history people want to leave forgotten.

If Plantation weddings help finance their continued existence, so that so one day they're available when we're ready to tell the stories from the enslaved perspective, I can't discount that. Plantation weddings are a symptom of something deeper. Erasing the symptom doesn't make America better. It just deprives us of that history before we've finished learning from it. Which is why America still sucks so hard.
posted by politikitty at 2:05 PM on May 18, 2017


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