Anything Missing… February 15, 2012 24 comments at Stone Mountain Park’s plantation? Well, at least the kids will learn about the important roles the animals played in the maintenance of the plantation. LOL 24 comments… add one Ray O'Hara February 15, 2012, 1:47 pm I suppose hiring Blacks to be slave reenactors might not get many takers. That is if the park owners were so inclined. The best way to view the Mt itself is from Kennesaw Mt. from there you can really see what a unique geological formation it is. History presentation aside it is a cool place to visit. If there had been no Civil War Stone Mt and Kennesaw would both still be parks. they are wonderfully scenic and near a major population center. Reply Rob Baker February 15, 2012, 2:04 pm I would venture to say that it is more about commercialism than history at Stone Mountain. Horwitz had a point when talking about that ‘adventure.’ Reply Pat Young February 15, 2012, 2:04 pm Took my kids there a dozen years ago. We called it “Confederate Disneyland”. When we toured we were surprised to see that right next to the plantation manor was a nice middle class house that was “Mammy’s home” according to the signage. When we went inside we learned that the substantial structure never housed a black woman, but was actually the home of a white overseer. You had to read some mighty fine print to find that out. Reply James Harrigan February 15, 2012, 5:40 pm when I used their search feature, this is what I got: Your search – slavery – did not match any documents. No pages were found containing “slavery” . Your search – slave – did not match any documents. No pages were found containing “slave” Your search – african – did not match any documents. No pages were found containing “african” Reply JMRudy February 16, 2012, 7:23 am Also, for good measure: Your search – klan – did not match any documents No pages were found containing “klan” . Your search – Leo Frank – did not match any documents. No pages were found containing “Leo Frank” . Your search – Mary Phagan – did not match any documents. No pages were found containing “Mary Phagan” . Reply Kate Halleron February 15, 2012, 7:20 pm There are slave cabins at Stone Mountain. Yes, they do underplay it, but it is there. Reply Bernard February 17, 2012, 7:45 am I think the proper balance is having something in their exhibits to explain slave life on the plantation in detail. Simply acknowledging it, whether by underplaying it and pushing it to the corner or overplaying it by tacking the word “slavery” onto every single sign and exhibit without actually conveying useful knowledge beyond that, does a disservice to the visitor. And in my recent experience, far more historical sites are guilty of this than not (including a growing number of those that, in their quest to make slavery front-and-center, tack it up everywhere but neglect to actually say anything meaningful about it). This was the experience during my most recent visit to Monticello with the way they handled the Sally Hemings issue. I had gone there maybe 15 years ago before Hemings erupted and vaguely remember a fairly decent balance struck between telling the story of Jefferson and reminding people that it was an active slave plantation when he lived there. But when I returned last summer I walked away from the tour with the feeling that they were trying to force Sally Hemings into practically every nook and corner of the house. She came up in almost every single room with the tour guide going through this long, awkward, and repetitive script about how “ironic” it was that the author of the Declaration of Independence owned black slaves including Hemings – literally as if the crowd had to be constantly reminded of it from the last time she made the exact same observation 5 minutes ago in the previous room, lest they forget. The most astounding thing of all was that, despite harping on the Hemings name at every single opportunity, the guide conveyed absolutely no meaningful information about who Sally Hemings was beyond stating that she was (1) a black slave at Monticello, (2) had a child with Jefferson (with absolutely no further context given to the ongoing scholarly debate about this), and (3) that this was “ironic” since he wrote the Declaration and proclaimed equality even though he owned slaves. Reply London John February 16, 2012, 12:17 am Is that the Stone Mountain where the KKK was re-launched in 1915? Reply Michael Douglas February 17, 2012, 2:36 pm I think so. It was a bunch who called themselves the Knights of Mary Phagan and claimed they were initiating a new “invisible order” of the Klan. The whole thing had, at the time, anti-Jewish overtones. They likely included some of the same cowards who had, three months prior, kidnapped from prison and lynched a Jewish man by the name of Leo Frank who had been convicted of the murder of Miss Phagan. Reply Craig L. February 16, 2012, 1:23 am My wife and I visited Stone Mountain in October of 2001 with two of her Samoan nursing colleagues. The Civil War years were a tumultuous time in Polynesian history, not just in Samoa, but also in Hawaii, Tahiti, Tonga and Fiji. Plantation economies there experienced disruptions due to shifts in trade caused by the Union blockade of Confederate ports, resulting in dynastic changes for the micro-monarchies. When I saw the monument there I was not yet aware that I had a Civil War ancestor. I’ve since learned that my great great grandmother’s younger brother took part in and was wounded at a critical juncture in the Battle of Atlanta. That wound and the pension that followed from it may have been what motivated my ancestor to enlist four months later. Reply Lyle Smith February 16, 2012, 8:12 am Living history at a southern plantation can be a difficult matter today. How do you get 10-20 or more volunteers to daily play slaves? I don’t have a problem with historic homes owned by the state or whomever, that are open to the public, providing living history even if it is only the lillywhite elite kind. As long as they present information on the number of slaves that were there and discuss slave life. My guess is that as time goes by living history at plantation homes will probably be more historically accurate as people feel less uncomfortable about learning about it and displaying it. Reply Kevin Levin February 16, 2012, 8:14 am Of course, you don’t need living historians to acknowledge the crucial role of slavery on a plantation. That can be achieved in any number of ways. Reply Ray O'Hara February 16, 2012, 9:43 am No, you don’t need living historians. But for the casual visitor they add to the experience. Plimouth Plantation and Colonial Williamsburg are both enhanced by them. Tours of Boston and Philadelphia by actors portraying Ben Franklin or another colonial figure are quite popular and the touristas enjoy the tour more and remember it better. Reply Kevin Levin February 16, 2012, 9:45 am When done right, they can add immeasurably to the visitor experience as can any number of interpretive exhibits. Reply Ray O'Hara February 16, 2012, 8:49 pm “when done right” or it’s inverse can apply to equally any method. I can recall a very prominent sign at Spotsyvania that declared the Union lost 7000 men in 15 minutes. decades of Park visitors saw that sign. No interpretive marker can match actually watching a blacksmith forge a harpoon point such as you will see at Old Mystic Seaport or being with others magically transformed from tourists to petitioners going to see Governor Botetourt at the Governors mansion in Williamsburg. The non history buffs I was with still remember that as the high point of the visit. Folks like you and me can get great value from an exhibit , some bored kid not so much. Reply Kevin Levin February 17, 2012, 2:45 am Folks like you and me can get great value from an exhibit , some bored kid not so much. I don’t remember the number of bored kids being much higher than the number of bored adults that I’ve led on Civil War battlefields. In fact, quite the opposite. Reply Margaret D. Blough February 16, 2012, 9:41 pm And there’s the rub. Reenactments of slave auctions have caused an uproar, but such auctions and the traffic in humans going to and from it were a significant element of life in the slave states. I don’t think it excuses historical sites of dealing with the ugly as well as the pleasant parts of their histories but interpreting sensitive, highly emotional subjects without descending into Grand Guignol or building a Potemkin village is difficult. IMO, that’s why the Holocaust Museum in DC was such a breakthrough. Reply Bernard February 17, 2012, 7:15 am The real question here is what else would you have them do? If they hired black actors to play the role of slaves, I’ll venture to suggest that many people would find that even more offensive and objectionable for reasons that do not need any elaboration. So basically they’re damned if they do, damned if they don’t. Reply Keith Harris February 17, 2012, 1:34 pm Several years ago I visited Boone Hall Plantation outside of Charleston – where you can speak with black people interpreting slave life in South Carolina. I spoke with one woman who was weaving baskets native to the area – she didn’t seem to have a problem with what she was doing. Reply Michael Douglas February 17, 2012, 2:10 pm I suppose it’s all in how any given interpretation is handled. But I think a problem arises with the reality that slavery, aside from the horror of being owned and having no human dignity or personal autonomy, involved a multitude of experiences, some better and some worse than others. One of my g-g-g grandfathers spoke of having a “good master.” One of my g-g-g grandmothers was bitter, to her dying day I understand, about the treatment and separation of her family and the wanton crippling of her sister for accidentally spilling water. Yet another g-g-g grandmother had 5 children by the man who held her in slavery, but doesn’t easily or neatly fit into the coercion/rape category as she was still living in his household (along with his wife) 14 years after emancipation along with the youngest of those children. It seems that interpretation could be a minefield of considerations. Reply Keith Harris February 17, 2012, 2:41 pm A minefield indeed – but I am happy that there are those who are willing to offer an interpretation. I believe also that along with the horrors of being owned and tortured, a rich culture developed in the quarters – one that should be understood and interpreted at these plantation sites along with everything else. Sure – I admit that this could be touchy, to say the least. So perhaps it comes down to who is involved in such presentations. My guess is an SCV recreation of plantation life would be a tad…uncomfortable. Reply Michael February 17, 2012, 5:06 pm “My guess is an SCV recreation of plantation life would be a tad…uncomfortable.” lol! Indeed! You know, I think you are absolutely correct in bringing up an aspect of interpretation that I embarrassingly overlooked; culture. As you point out, a very rich culture. Not only the cultures that developed in relation to survival, but those cultural aspects which, even while a people were being viewed as “lesser,” infused and became part and parcel of southern (and American in general) life and culture. Reply TF Smith February 19, 2012, 4:17 pm You know, someone like Dave Chappelle or Tracy Morgan could really do something with this…performance art crossed with the “punked” concept. Of course, if someone did it, they’d probably be taking their lives in their hands in certain parts of the country. Best, Reply Michael Douglas February 28, 2012, 11:50 am I just this moment finished reading an interesting interview with a woman named Nicole Moore who has worked at South Carolina’s Culture and Heritage Museums (Historic Brattonsville) as a slave life interpreter. I have, from time to time, looked at her blog, Interpreting Slave Life (http://www.interpretingslavelife.com/ ), but this interview (on a food-focused site of all things) addresses many of the issues discussed in these comments. She discusses the challenges of interpretation, how she has approached it and the manner in which she thinks that institutions, organizations and educators might best approach the challenge. The insights she offers are based on her actual experiences as an interpreter and are well worth a read, I think. You can find the interview at http://afroculinaria.com/. Do a page search for Meet Nicole Moore: A Member of the Cooking Gene Project Team. The whole interview is interesting, but I found items 9-12 to be particularly germane to this conversation. Reply Leave a Comment Cancel Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email.