Vacationers get cozy in slave cabins
CHARLESTON, S.C., March 18 As we strolled up the tree-lined street to the pink bed and breakfast, a couple from Wisconsin suggested we meet later for a sherry in the drawing room. Which room was mine?
"ACTUALLY," I said, not a little sheepishly, "I'm staying in the old
The husband raised his eyebrows dramatically, and his tone dripped with
Well, not exactly.
It's doubtful that Alexander Black's slaves had chintz valances over
When the inventor of rice and cotton processing equipment built the house in 1832, who knows if he gave any thought to the comfort of the human chattel who would occupy the rooms above his horse stalls.
In fact, there was nothing about the quaint, comfortable cottage with
Angela da Silva knows how she feels. The idea conjures visions of whippings and midnight visits from "massa."
"As a cultural preservationist, it would scare me to death to stay there,"
Da Silva arranges tours of former plantations and slave sites for her
"I mean, that's TRULY whitewashing slavery," she says.
But to business people across the South and beyond, these are just rooms to contribute to the bottom line.
The Magnolia Hill Plantation in Natchez, Miss., advertises its former
Adam Goodheart, an editor for Preservation Magazine, wrote with open disgust last fall about a visit to Natchez's Monmouth Plantation. As he was being led to his cabin out back, an elderly white man waved from the porch of a whitewashed cottage and greeted him, "Hello, fellow slave."
"Until I visited Natchez," he wrote, "I had never heard of slave cabins
Jean-Luc Maumus, manager of Monmouth, notes that the 1818 plantation and its outbuildings had fallen into disrepair before it was restored and turned into a hotel.
"These are buildings with some history," says Maumus, a native of France.
"We are not responsible for the history. The history's there ... Either you live with your past or you destroy it."
Only one or two guests have complained about the slave quarters, said
At Caledonia Farm-1812 near Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, innkeeper
Phil Irwin advertises the old summer kitchen and upstairs apartment as
He usually refers to it as the servants' quarters.
"Oh, it's mentioned in passing, but we don't dwell on it," he says of
This makes no sense to Da Silva.
"It's ludicrous to me that you would use a historic building, would
But people like Mary Hill Caperton are unapologetic. Caperton
"One woman thought all slave houses should be torn down ... because it was an insult and exploiting slavery and so forth," she says. "And I replied, very nicely, that I think she would be destroying history."
Irwin has had black guests stay in his inn's old quarters, with no
Alphonso Brown, owner of Gullah Tours in Charleston, passes old slave
As a black man, that doesn't bother him. What does is when people try
"What I find a problem is when they refer to the slave quarters as servants'
John Michael Vlach, a history professor at George Washington University and author of "Back of the Big House," a book about slave architecture, says it's not necessary to preserve and venerate every building where slaves once lived. But he acknowledges the danger in gussying the whole place up.
"If you own property, you can do what you want with it," he says. "The
Critics concede that the problem in making the slave quarters more authentic is that most people probably wouldn't want to stay in them.
But even these sanitized quarters, with their frills and luxuries, offer
Last June, Amanda Schwegler of Overland Park, Kan., and a friend were
making a cross-country tour and decided to stop at Tezcuco Plantation,
between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The name means "resting place," but
the pair found little repose.
"We watched the rain from rocking chairs on our tiny front porch, feeling
But after a while, Schwegler, who is white, found herself questioning
"Perhaps they were, as the slaves' residences, generally happy places where rest and family interactions took place," she says. "Perhaps they were the happiest place on the plantation for the slaves."
Then she found a drawer full of notes left by previous guests. They
And it all hit home.
"The contrast of these recent happy tales to the original circumstances
Posting historical information might be a good compromise, Schwegler says.
"But if it seems incongruous to have such information in the context
of a B&