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Shuttered NC plantation ‘whitewashed’ history, protesters say

Shuttered NC plantation ‘whitewashed’ history, protesters say
Shuttered NC plantation ‘whitewashed’ history, protesters say(Charlotte Observer)
Updated: Jun. 20, 2021 at 5:15 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (The Charlotte Observer) - Despite the closed gate at Historic Latta Plantation on Saturday, Karla Jensen, Christian Cano, Isabella Patterson and Richard Lu joined a few dozen other Carolinians to denounce the way the living history museum promoted a since-canceled Juneteenth event.

“There’s been a lot of history erasure, and we’re here to point out that history involves all colors,” Patterson, a 19-year-old UNC-Chapel Hill student, told The Charlotte Observer.

Patterson held a placard that read, “Hands off our History.”

Saturday was Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. President Joe Biden on Thursday signed a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday.

Controversy surrounded Historic Latta Plantation this month over the site’s planned event, pegged to Juneteenth. The event’s promotional material promised to tell the story of “white refugees” and defeated Confederate soldiers. Latta Plantation’s manager later defended the event and said his intent was never to glorify white supremacy or slavery.

“To tell the story of these freedmen would be pointless if the stories of others were not included. 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,” Ian Campbell said in the June 12 statement, which has since been blocked from view as Latta Plantation’s website has been made private.

He went on to say, “I, Ian Campbell, as an American man of African descent and the new site manager at Historic Latta Plantation, will lift the veil of ignorance.”

But the event description didn’t acknowledge the significance of June 19 and called those who were enslaved “former bondsmen,” without any mention of the 250 years Black people were forced into slavery in the United States. Instead, it inaccurately minimized an unnamed slaveowner to an “overseer” and referred to him as “massa,” the Observer previously reported.

On Thursday, Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation officials said the plantation was closed until further notice.

Park and Recreation Director W. Lee Jones said his department will evaluate “the best path forward for Latta Plantation and its programming” over several months.

The department wants to ensure that the site is used “in an appropriate, forward-thinking manner,” Jones said.

Earlier in the week, Jones told county commissioners he was concerned about summer programs training children to be like “young Confederate soldiers” and “Southern belles.”

Jones also said the county wouldn’t renew its contract with plantation, which ends June 30.

LIVING HISTORY MUSEUM UNDER SCRUTINY

Protesters on Saturday said more change is needed at the living history museum and farm that offers year-round educational and school programs.

Stephanie Gardner, a 48-year-old from Charlotte who participated in Saturday’s protest, called the plantation’s literature “a Confederate whitewash.”

“My concern is, (the plantation grounds on Sample Road) should be held sacred for the Black descendants of those who were enslaved here, or those closest to them,” she said.

Cano, a 54-year-old who grew up in Texas and lives in Charlotte, held a “Latinx for Black Lives” poster.

“It’s important that we stand up to this,” he said. “When we stay silent, injustices happen.”

Kari Giles, who is white, drove from Fort Mill.

“Stop! White Washing Black History,” her placard read.

“This is not a day for me to celebrate,” the 44-year-old said, “but how I can support my Black neighbors.”

‘TIME WE SHOWED THEM RESPECT’

Karla Jensen, 70, of Charlotte, said what the plantation did “was just morally wrong.”

She held a placard that said: “Listen to Black Voices.”

“This country was built on the backs of Black people,” Jensen said. “It’s time we showed them the respect they deserve.”

ACTIVIST LED PROTEST

Civil rights activist Kass Ottley, founder/CEO of Seeking Justice Charlotte, planned Saturday’s peaceful protest when the plantation’s Juneteenth event was still a go for that night.

She said it was important to still show up, and put word out on social media.

The gathering in part celebrated how public reaction led to the cancellation of the plantation event, Ottley said.

“We’re out here celebrating,” she said. “We shut down the event.”

The protest also highlighted how more needs to be done at the plantation, she said, for example, inclusion of Black people on the board of Latta Place Inc., the nonprofit whose mission is to preserve the circa-1800s plantation.

“We need to stay on top of the county commissioners and the city, so we have a voice at the table,” she said.

The plantation, for instance, needs to tell the stories of “the slaves who worked here in bondage,” Ottley said.

“At some point, we’ve got to take a stand,” she said. “How are we telling the generations about racism and coming together if we’re lying about it?”

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