As plantations talk more honestly about slavery, some visitors are pushing backBreaking News
tags: slavery, presidential history, Monticello, public history, plantations, historical sites
A Monticello tour guide was explaining earlier this summer how enslaved people built, planted and tended a terrace of vegetables at Thomas Jefferson’s estate when a woman interrupted to share her annoyance.
“Why are you talking about that?” she demanded, according to Gary Sandling, vice president of Monticello’s visitor programs and services. “You should be talking about the plants."
At Monticello, George Washington’s Mount Vernon and other plantations across the South, an effort is underway to deal more honestly with the brutal institution that the Founding Fathers relied on to build their homes and their wealth: slavery.
Four hundred years after the first enslaved Africans arrived in the English colony of Virginia, some sites are also connecting that ugly past to modern-day racism and inequality.
The changes have begun to draw people long alienated by the sites’ whitewashing of the past and to satisfy what staff call a hunger for real history, as plantations add slavery-focused tours, rebuild cabins and reconstruct the lives of the enslaved with help from their descendants. But some visitors, who remain overwhelmingly white, are pushing back, and the very mention of slavery and its impacts on the United States can bring accusations of playing politics.
“We’re at a very polarized, partisan political moment in our country, and not surprisingly, when we are in those moments, history becomes equally polarized,” Sandling said.
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