Plantations Have Alienated Visitors By Whitewashing The Past. That’s Changing And Not Everyone Is Happy

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Written by Ann Brown

Plantations are probably not on the list of tour stops for many Black Americans. For one reason, these historic structures don’t seem to address the elephant in the room — that behind their glory and grandeur lies a brutal history of the enslavement of Africans. 

Now some plantations have decided to switch course and instead of focus purely on the magnificence of their structures but to also talk frank about American slavery. This direction, however, has rattled some, mainly white, people. 

plantations
Photo by Martin Falbisoner

“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,” MSN reported.

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The backlash can be seen in online comments and reviews of plantations. One visitor at McLeod in Charleston, S.C., wrote that she “didn’t come to hear a lecture on how the white people treated slaves.”

Take the famed Thomas Jefferson plantation, Monticello.

Monticello’s guides are now telling its nearly half a million visitors annually about “enslaved people.” 

“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.

In 2018, Monticello opened a room once home to Jefferson’s former slave and lover, Sally Hemings amid growing evidence that Jefferson fathered her children. 

Some visitors have embraced the changes at Monticello.

“Visitor reviews of Monticello on travel site TripAdvisor are overwhelmingly positive. But the negative comments are increasingly likely to blast the amount of time devoted to slavery, decrying ‘political correctness’ and the bashing of a giant of American history. Two years ago, only a couple of the poor reviews mentioned slavery. This year, almost all of them do,” The Washington Post reported.

But Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society is strongly against Monticello’s decision to tell visitors Jefferson fathered children with Sally Hemings.