As a pastor in Northern Virginia, I occasionally officiated at weddings held on former plantations. The homes were gracious and white-columned. The gardens were lush and well-manicured. These venues were popular for summer nuptials and throughout the South, you can still find former plantations to rent for your special event.
This is a little bit like getting married at a Nazi labor camp if you think about it. While the officers might have lived in handsome residences, the prisoners worked under inhumane conditions and lived in overcrowded barracks. Many prisoners died there.
If you tour large former plantations in the Southeast United States, you might have a hard time finding the slave quarters or any shackles or chains. You certainly won’t hear about the enslaved people who died there.
Although many of us learned in U.S. History classes that all slaveholders were beneficent and all enslaved people were treated well, the truth is more difficult. Many former plantations have erased all traces of slavery – although one important exception is the Whitney Plantation in Wallace, Louisiana. The Whitney is one of the rare plantations focusing exclusively on the history of the enslaved people who lived there. In additional to the original slave quarters, you can see the chains and shackles used to control those who labored without compensation and a reproduction of the slave jail for those who had misbehaved or were being transported to and from the property.
Imagine getting married at such a place.
And yet today, throughout the Southeast and beyond, there are retirement communities, golf resorts and neighborhoods with the word “plantation” in their names. Too many Americans still consider a plantation to be the perfect wedding venue. And this is because most of us never learned the true history of slavery in the United States. It has been varnished or erased.
Too few of us realize that the enslaved people working on plantations were considered less than human. Plantations were places from where enslaved people tried to escape.
From “plantation shutters” to “plantation resorts” we need to remember what happened on actual plantations for two hundred years in this country. It’s not a sunny word.
I look forward to the day when the only place we see that word is on historical markers and those markers tell the truth about all who lived there.
Image of slave shackles in the museum at The Whitney Plantation.