By Margaret Biser (Vox)
Up until about a year ago, I worked at a historic site in the South that included an old house and a nearby plantation. My job was to lead tours and tell guests about the people who made plantations possible: the slaves.
The site I worked at most frequently had more than 100 enslaved workers associated with it— 27 people serving the household alone, outnumbering the home’s three white residents by a factor of nine. Yet many guests who visited the house and took the tour reacted with hostility to hearing a presentation that focused more on the slaves than on the owners.
The first time it happened, I had just finished a tour of the home. People were filing out of their seats, and one man stayed behind to talk to me. He said, “Listen, I just wanted to say that dragging all this slavery stuff up again is bringing down America.”
I started to protest, but he interrupted me. “You didn’t know. You’re young. But America is the greatest country in the world, and these people out there, they’d do anything to make America less great.” He was loud and confusing, and I was 22 years old and he seemed like a million feet tall.
Lots of folks who visit historic sites and plantations don’t expect to hear too much about slavery while they’re there. Their surprise isn’t unjustified: Relatively speaking, the move toward inclusive history in museums is fairly recent, and still underway. And as recent debates over Confederate iconography have shown, as a country we’re still working through our response to the horrors of slavery, even a century and a half after the end of the Civil War.