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Plantation Tours Talking About History of Slavery Upsetting White People

Plantation tours across the south are finally including the ugly truth about the history of slavery on their properties––and some visitors are unhappy about it.

At Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello estate in Virginia, where slaves built, planted and tended a terrace of vegetables, a white woman interrupted the tour guide’s explanation.

“Why are you talking about that? You should be talking about the plants,” she said, Gary Sandling, vice president of Monticello’s visitor programs and services, told The Washington Post.

That is not the only plantation tour that is starting to incorporate the truth and real history of slavery. Other places are adding slavery-focused tours, rebuilding slave cabins and reconstructing the lives of the enslaved with help from their descendants.

Backlash has been seen in person by the tour guides as well as in online reviews, The Washington Post reported.

McLeod Plantation, located in Charleston, S.C., had a review where a visitor complained that she “didn’t come to hear a lecture on how the white people treated slaves.”

Related Article: Black University of Alabama Dean Fired for Tweeting About Racism

Most of the negative reviews of Monticello this year are complaining about the tour’s focus on slaves, instead of on Jefferson.

One gem of a review read: “For someone like myself, going to Monticello is like an Elvis fan going to Graceland. Then to have the tour guide essentially make constant reference to what a bad person he really was just ruined it for me.”

But tours are pushing forward anyway in being more accurate about how the lives of the enslaved really were. At Monticello, slaves were once called “Mr. Jefferson’s people” during the tour. Now they are called “enslaved people” –– not “the souls of his family,” as Jefferson frequently referred to the people he kept in bondage.

Last year, Monticello opened a room once home to Sally Hemings amid growing evidence that Jefferson was the father of her children.

“We’ve been waiting, you know, for this story, for this amount of truth about the past,” said Niya Bates, Monticello’s director of African American history.

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4 Comments

  1. Quinlan:
    Co-sign on just about everything you said—-I mean, what the hell did this white woman think she was going to hear? The tour wasn’t made to cater to her or any other white person’s ideas of what they think slavery was—if she didn’t want to hear the truth, she should have left, then. It wasn’t even about her or whatever the hell she wanted to hear. Sounds like for too often and for way too long, white folks have only heard this sugar-coated version of slavery concocted to make white folks feel good, and never the real truth on what it was really like. If they don’t want to hear the real deal, they can just stay home and watch “Gone With The Wind” or something.

  2. Cassie Quinlan

    Oh dear – “you should not talk about the slaves”, who planted the huge garden, ” when giving this tour of Jefferson’s plantation, you should be talking about the plants!!!!”

    Makes me – and many others, who understand that history is whole, that people’s experiences matter, that we impact each other and either hold back or affirm, yet huge percent of white people have lived for several centuries, knowing nothing of the impact of their often mismanaged, destructive power over black people – colluding in order to contain them, kidnap and remove them from their country, then, because they were instantly visible, easier to contain in neighborhoods separate from white. The effect has been that both groups have lived for centuries apart – with black people wondering if they deserved this or not, while their struggles and additions of great work and innovations and talents – were not mentioned in hero stories. They were the one group forcibly held separate without break, kept separate with ease and evasive code words to justify keeping difference separate – and subordinate, continuing the distorted practice since the colonial ships traveled to lands far from western culture – to judge their history in distorted ways, then avoid study, and keep them invisible in a world that also knows so little about them.

    Meanwhile the dominant white group (and the purpose is not total vilification of all whites, for none of us knows what we do not know, it was not all malice) – but the dominant group that believed in affirming and supporting the active white men in taking over this country and using machines and science to build it – bypassing the error of doing so without nature or recognized participation of all involved – we brought machines and plowed ahead, ignoring side effects and impact on nature and people – and now believe that “too much focus on the negative” is “depressing” and destructive to harmony, so we “should not teach about slaves” but about plants!
    What kind of harmony is possible, when the history is one of robbery of subordinate cultures, forceful silencing and separation, with the impact of duration and widespread support of such efforts?.
    What to answer. African Americans are often too gracious. Maybe in context we can find a way to kindly, but clearly call that white woman’s comments “selfish”? At least respond that in the building of America of today, there were several histories involved, and only studying the dominant one, is not “positive” but continuing an ignorance that is cruel in its effects.

    The purpose of review is not to vilify white slave owners forever, but to notice and realize that when leaders have multiple ways to silence groups of people, prevent them from legal involvement even like marriages or from learning to read because they are seen as not smart enough – but the leaders really worry they are too smart – then hold separate people that they brought over here, and built their own wealth on the slave labor – hearing the stories of those enslaved, alongside the stories of the leaders – is the first order of business, so we can, by our own study of their culture and experiences, add some small amount at least, of modern remedy to a country all too eager to avoid any pain for white folks and move into better understanding of all.

  3. The truth is the light. BLM

  4. If “hearing” the truth is painful, imagine how it was living it.

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