A recent Slave Dwelling Project trip to Coachman’s Quarters in Hillsborough, NC.
On paper, the Slave Dwelling Project’s mission is “to identify and assist property owners, government agencies and organizations to preserve extant slave dwellings.” But in reality, this organization’s mission has deeper foundations than most of America’s buildings.
Joseph McGill, a native Charlestonian and former staff member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation has lived a life steeped in Southern culture, but the idea of sleeping in these extant slave dwellings did not come to mind until 2011 when he served as a Civil War reenactor in the uniform of the 54th Massachusetts, the first African-American unit to serve in the Union Army during the Civil War (also featured in the movie Glory). Through reenactment, he made the connection between living history and understanding structural racism’s roots in slavery.
The Mini Grant which the Slave Dwelling Project has received from the Lowcountry Unity Fund will contribute to funding for expansion of this organization’s overnight stay program throughout the U.S. Overnight stays have occurred in more than 80 dwellings in the past five years, with the ultimate goal being to visit every extant slave dwelling in the US. Founder Joseph McGill works part-time interpreting slave history at Magnolia Plantation, where three overnight stays have already occurred, including one in response to last year’s Emanuel A.M.E. Massacre. According to McGill, the most successful stays involve living history, i.e. a cooking demonstration to bring free and enslaved characters to life, discuss the transatlantic slave trade and interpret slavery’s implications today.
The Slave Dwelling Project is addressing structural racism by creating the public forum for conversation on slavery with these visits. McGill’s words say it best:
“Structural racism has a history that is rooted in the institution of slavery. The slavery that existed in this nation is often sugar-coated, or not talked about at all. Historic antebellum sites are in a great position to begin the conversation to begin the healing process but many of them are incapable because of the lack of African Americans willing and capable of telling their own stories.”
The Slave Dwelling Project is one way to change that dynamic and to host dialogues for change. To learn more about the organization, go to www.slavedwellingproject.org. For an account of the September 2015 overnight stay in Magnolia Plantation’s slave dwellings by McGill and visitors Prinny Anderson and Melissa Flick-Aller, please click here.