Want to Be a “Slave for a Day” at Towson Historical Site?

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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.



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8 COMMENTS

  1. See, this is another event (however misguided) that marginalizes the experience and history of African Americans. No one would even think of (nor would it be allowed): “Be a holocaust victim for a day.” Protest/Petition time!

    • I’m not sure how this marginalizes the experience. In most cases I’ve found that the historical places mention the slavery briefly in some plaque hidden in some corner. This puts it out in front and they open themselves up for criticism from places like this blog. It’s not easy for a crusty old place to do. It may not get the amount of depressingness in the tone correct, but at least they’re trying.

  2. Better than at the Gamble Plantation in Ellenton, Flora Duh (Latin: “land of stupid plants”), where you see no real evidence that they had slaves at all.

    As my (black) wife, who is from Baltimore, said at one of the “confederate days” celebrations at Gamble, “They were born too late to have slaves, so they dress up and pretend. Uh huh.”

  3. Will they whip and rape them? Separate them from their families? This looks like a day of farm work, not slavery.

  4. WITF is Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, The Black Caucus or the Ministerial Alliances. This is just disgusting!

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