Um. Okay. We know that local historical sites try to put on events that are both fun and educational during the summer months — you know, that sort of churn-your-own-butter activity that’s supposed to help kids connect with the past. But this one seems a little… misguided: On July 8 at Towson’s Hampton Farm you can be a “Slave for a Day.” In an announcement event with an awkwardly jaunty tone, Hampton promises to let kids “[e]xperience what it may have been like being enslaved. Work in the fields with actual hoes and scythes. Carry buckets of water with a yoke on your shoulders!”
It’s that last exclamation point that really pushes it over the edge for me. Clearly Hampton is approaching this from an education-is-good! perspective. Their hearts are in the right place. They’ve enlisted the African Diaspora Ancestral Commemoration Institute to perform a ceremony to commemorate those who were enslaved at Hampton. An altar in the farm’s slave quarters will “pay homage to those who were in bondage,” and visitors are encouraged to bring names of their ancestors to place on the altar. And better to explore and interrogate the history of slavery than to ignore it, as so many of these graceful old mansion museums tend to do. (Take a tour of Oak Alley outside New Orleans to see what I mean.)
Still, the inescapable and brutal fact of slavery was that it wasn’t for a day. No, “carry[ing] buckets of water with a yoke on your shoulders!” will be nothing like “what it may have been like to be enslaved.” Some things are too profound to playact, it seems to me.