We’ve recently moved to the South, not quite the deep South, but still to a part of the country that prides itself on its southern roots and glorious historical past. Virginia, known for its earliest settlement, Jamestown, in the early 1600’s, and home to the wealthiest and most elite ruling class in North America due to the establishment of the plantation agricultural system via the institution of slave societies and economies dependent on slavery. It was home to four of the first five Presidents of the United States: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe.
Virginia’s interesting yet controversial past is too vast for me to summarize without sounding like a history Professor, so to avoid boring you to death, I’ll cut the lesson short.
Fast forward to Virginia today, or at least to the part of Virginia that we live in, Charlottesville, which could be defined more as an exurb due to major influences from larger nearby Eastern cities such as D.C., Richmond, Baltimore, etc.
Some of the more popular attractions and tourists spots are the area’s numerous wineries and curiously enough, its historical plantation sites. As newbies here, there seems to be almost an expectation by the locals that as soon as you unpack your bags, as a rite of passage toward becoming a true Virginian, one must partake in one, if not both of these excursions at some point. Recommendations of favorites (mostly the wineries) abound and are quite variable.
These attractions are so immersed in Virginia culture, that even the school systems perform their due diligence in incorporating it into their learning curriculum. So we were a bit concerned when Delaney came home a couple of weeks ago with a permission slip to attend her Kindergarten class field trip to one of the local plantations!
Ashlawn-Highland was the estate of James Monroe, the fifth Prez of the United States. His plantation was close to Thomas Jefferson’s famous plantation Monticello, so they were next door neighbors.
Ashlawn-Highland may currently describe itself as a place that “offers a compelling glimpse into a period of growth in US history, in a setting full of abundant charm,” but let’s not get it twisted – during Monroe’s 24 years as its owner, it was a working plantation which experienced this period of growth as a direct result of the subjugation of brown people, and forcing them to work as free laborers while considering them less than human – which justified for them how they could consider these people chattel slaves.
Let us note that he and Thomas Jefferson, two of America’s shining symbols of excellence, and so-called heroic founding fathers, were complicit in this morally corrupt “peculiar institution.” But like they say, one man’s hero is another man’s heel!
So Delaney and her class will tour this suspicious homestead today, thus we were rightly concerned that during the tour, she might learn of this dark portion of American history at this establishment that can obviously be likened to something similar to Auschwitz, as a Black Holocaust transpired for centuries in places such as this.
We have no intention of allowing her self image to be negatively altered or eroded by the knowledge that brown people like her, had to endure outrageously inhuman treatment that went on there. She will learn of this someday, but we wish to be the ones who inform her – delicately, in our way, and on our time, from our perspective! We did not want this to be the venue of her first introduction of the cruelty that our ancestors endured.
We approached Delaney’s teacher with our trepedation about allowing her to attend this field trip if slavery would be discussed at any point during the tour. She was sympathic, and agreed to research the tour for us. When she got back to us, she assured us that the subject of slavery would not be touched on during their tour. So we reluctantly allowed her to attend.
I’m glad that kiddie tours omit the shame of slavery, but I hope that it is not swept under the rug altogether for the grown folks, nor that tour guides try to present it in a palatable, watered down way to obscure the true horror of the institution.
For until the complete truth of slavery becomes seared into the consciousness of all people and seen for the national tragedy that it was, Americans will continue speaking of the good ol’ days as something for ALL citzens to be proud of! They will continue to believe in the myth of the Antebellum south and see it through the distorted spectacles of propaganda, while the consequences of that terrible period and it’s ripple effects are still being negatively felt today!
So they can promote these plantations as a lovely place to revisit the quaint and charming lifestyle of the past all they want – but that still will never hide the fact that this was certainly not the case for all people.
MB & Rach