‘My job will be to continue to educate’: Latta Plantation responds to criticism over promoted Juneteenth event

Updated: Jun. 12, 2021 at 4:26 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Historic Latta Plantation responded Saturday to backlash over an internet post promoting its Juneteenth event.

Ian Campbell, the new site manager at the plantation, publicized an event scheduled for June 19 called “Kingdom Coming.”

After outrage from the community and Mecklenburg County leaders, the event was pulled from its calendar and has been canceled.

It was supposed to be a representation of life in the waning days of the antebellum era. The post said the interactive event would introduce people to a character that’s referred to as “massa” -- a term slaves used to address oppressors.

“My job will be to continue to educate,” Campbell said. “Historic Latta Plantation’s narrative will be to give a voice to our ancestors enslaved and as freedmen who were denied a voice. We will speak for them in a compassionate, accurate, and sensitive manner.”

The post also referred to “freedmen” but did not include that Black people were enslaved in the United States for nearly 250 years. Instead, the museum’s site referred to slaves as “former bondsmen,” according to the Charlotte Observer.

Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles even expressed her displeasure at the post.

“On June 19, 1865, known as Juneteenth, 250,000 enslaved Black people were declared free by executive decree. That day should be celebrated and honored in the most humble way possible, with laser focus on the perspective of the inhumane treatment of an enslaved people,” Lyles said. “We should not support any business or organization that does not respect equality, history, and the truth of the African-American people’s journey to freedom. Despite intent, words matter. And the Historic Latta Plantation should know better.”

Campbell said the main reason the event had to be canceled was due to “security concerns for volunteers and staff.”

In a letter posted to the Latta Plantation website, he blamed the media ignited a “social media frenzy.”

“It was not until after the social media frenzy that Latta received numerous emails and phone calls about the event,” Campbell stated.

Campbell, who is a Black male, said “Kingdom Coming” was an event created by himself, with the help of others.

“To the masses on social media and politicians, no apology will be given for bringing a unique program to educate the public about former slaves becoming FREE!,” Campbell wrote.

Historic Latta Plantation is located in Huntersville, just outside Charlotte.
Historic Latta Plantation is located in Huntersville, just outside Charlotte.(HISTORIC LATTA PLANTATION)

In the promotional post. the plantation owner was introduced as a “white refugee” after losing his plantation during the Civil War.

Actors playing Confederate troops were also going to be on hand to talk about their experiences.

“Who put this out? This is unbelievable,” said Mecklenburg County Commissioner Vilma Leake, who had a hard time believing what she read when showed the post. “Any part of this looking at it is irritating.”

The timing is also problematic; The event was on June 19, better known as Juneteenth, which is a day celebrated for slave freedom.

Campbell says the reason for the event was to educate people on the history of Latta Plantation and the stories of those enslaved.

He also says he will continue to teach people about the plantation’s history.

“With the little information that we have about Latta Plantation, also known as Riverside, the stories of those enslaved as well as freedmen will be told,” Campbell said. “This new narrative will also include the stories of other enslaved men, women, and children on many other plantations in the United States. It will also include the stories of those enslaved and free before, during, and after the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican American War, the American Civil War and Reconstruction.”

Campbell added that the “Confederacy will never be glorified, white supremacy will never be glorified, plantation owners, white refugees or overseers will never be glorified.”

“What will be commemorated is the story of our people who overcame being snatched from their loved ones in Mother Africa and taken to a new and strange land,” Campbell added. “To work from can see to can’t see from birth to death. The fact that they survived and we are here and continue to thrive and prosper will be glorified.”

Mecklenburg County officials posted a tweet saying they were not aware of the event and contacted organizers and had the event shut down.

The town of Huntersville put out their own message, saying they’re aware of the situation and though they have not yet fully investigated the incident, they stand in solidarity with Mecklenburg County’s message. The town also announced they’re putting their annual contribution to the plantation on hold for the new fiscal year while investigations into the event take place.

Campbell said he will not let the canceling of the Juneteenth event “deter me and the vision of lifting the veil of ignorance.”

Campbell explained the title “Kingdom Coming, The Year of Jubilo, that highlights the perceived enslaved view point.”

And his use of the word “massa.”

“Many of you may not like this but, their lives were intertwined, the stories of massa, the Confederate soldiers, the overseer, the displaced white families,” Campbell wrote. “How would we know how the enslaved became free or what their lives were like before freedom came? It didn’t happen with the stroke of a pen. Federal troops came across many of these plantations to enforce federal laws and many of the owners fled. What they couldn’t take with them they left behind, this included many of their enslaved property. Considered offensive for today, the song Kingdom Coming, The Year of Jubilo highlights the perceived enslaved view point. The core point of this program was overlooked by scores of people.

“Those formerly enslaved are now freedmen and have taken over the massa’s house, the house they toiled in seven days a week or in many cases on other plantations even built. They are now living high on the hog, bottom rail on top massa. They now control their own destiny, they have the right to decide on what they want to do with their lives, not the plantation owner! This is what made the white supremacist of the period mad, a former slave on equal footing with whites. The right to get legally married, the right to sign a labor contract on their terms and conditions, the right to an education, also having children without fear of them being sold down the river.”

You can read the full statement here.

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