Southern Neighborhoods Have Been Named ‘Plantations’ For Decades. That Could Be Changing.Historians in the News
tags: slavery, Confederacy, public history
The trope of the romantic, genteel Southern plantation runs deep in American history. It was first hatched in popular 19th-century novels that “sanitized the racial violence inherent in slavery, making it appear as though it was a benign institution,” says UNC Charlotte historian Karen Cox, author of “Dreaming of Dixie: How the South Was Created in American Popular Culture.” Northerners also promoted this image through songs and movies, notably “Gone with the Wind,” which has had nine U.S. rereleases since its 1939 premiere.
In the 1950s, as the post-World War II housing market boomed, a developer named Charles Fraser launched what became the grandfather of planned resort communities — Hilton Head’s 5,200-acre Sea Pines Plantation. For white northern visitors, the name conjured southern elegance and charm.
But long before Hilton Head’s resorts arrived, the island had been home to cotton, indigo and rice plantations that relied on slave labor. The enslaved black people who worked these plantations made up most of the island’s residents. These people, of African descent, developed a culture known as Gullah Geechee, rich in African traditions. Descendants, such as Emory Campbell, live in the area today.
Campbell, a 78-year-old community leader, was a teenager when Fraser began building Sea Pines. It was followed by Port Royal Plantation, Palmetto Hall Plantation, “and on and on and on,” Campbell says. Black residents “resented that term because we knew what plantation meant historically.”
In recent years, some places, including Sea Pines, have dropped the word from their names. Yet it’s still used widely. Sea Pines Resort, for instance, is home to Plantation Golf Club. A tourist information website, hiltonhead.com, explains: “Much of Hilton Head is segmented into gated communities, also known as plantations.” And while Port Royal dropped the word from its newsletters and legal documents, “plantation” remains part of the legal name, says Risa Sreden Prince, a neighborhood board member working to change it.
Prince recalls that she “kind of choked” using the word “plantation” when she retired to Hilton Head four years ago from Ohio. “But there were lots of communities here called plantation. In my northern naivieté, I didn’t think much about it.”
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