looking for history's hut

26 pages
89 views

Please download to get full document.

View again

of 26
All materials on our website are shared by users. If you have any questions about copyright issues, please report us to resolve them. We are always happy to assist you.
Share
Description
paper on african identity
Tags
Transcript
  Looking for History’s Huts Barbara Burlison Mooney  A number of extant slave habitations survive throughout the American South, and these buildings have much to tell about the past and the present. Based on research undertaken in   2003 , this essay examines interpretive practices employed at both rural and urban slave sites, and it reveals patterns that either illuminate or obscure our understanding of the histories and architectural histories of African Americans. While freestanding extant houses do not represent the kind of shelter that most bondspeople occupied, important lessons can still be drawn from the way architectural design features, such as materials,construction techniques, and site planning, facilitated exploitation.  W  ITNESS THE FOLLOWING scene. Theaction occurs inside one of two brickslave dwellings that in  1934  Henry Fordmoved to Greenfield Village, his open-air mu-seum in Dearborn, Michigan, from the HermitagePlantation outside Savannah, Georgia (figs.  1 ,  2 ). 1  A white mother with a child about ten years oldlistens politely to a black interpreter discuss thedrinking gourd, basket, and furniture that enliventhe interior. The interpreter explains that thehouse was built of brick because it was manufac-tured on the Hermitage Plantation under the tasksystem and that most slave quarters were not built of brick. The white mother absorbs the informa-tion, carefully surveys the interior of the house,and responds by saying that the Hermitage slaves’habitation was ‘‘not all that bad, pretty nice.’’Barely containing her rage within crisply articu-lated syllables, the interpreter launches into a lit-any of the personal injustices of slavery, includingrelating that children were taken from their moth-ers and sold. Thus chastised, the visitor becomessilent and the dialogue ends abruptly.This miscommunication and the resultingtension between guide and visitor epitomize themisdirection too often present in current preser- vation and interpretive practices at extant slavedwellings. As the episode demonstrates, the archi-tecture of slavery bears a heavy weight by servingas the most physical sign of American slavery. Be-cause of their size, materiality, and survival be- yond the earthly lives of their inhabitants, extant slave quarters, as well as other buildings that ac-commodated bondage, are the most visible relicsof a historical period with which America has yet to come to terms. Those who visit historic archi-tecture and those who teach it as material culturemay expect buildings to yield truths absent fromthe written record; moreover, they expect a rela-tively straightforward relationship between the ob- ject and message. But continuing racism and thelingering shadow of slavery permeate our compre-hension of architecture, so that features can con-note memories and feelings far more complexthan merely denoting objective information about building practices. What exactly is signified by ex-tant slave dwellings might depend on the viewer’srace. James Oliver Horton notes that, for African Americans, these buildings may evoke memoriesof painful exploitation but may also engenderpride in having survived the ordeal. For European Americans, they should produce sobering shame,but for some they may summon nostalgia for themyth of the Old South. As the physical represen-tations of bondage, extant slave dwellings serve ascritical forensic evidence of what Maya Angelouhas more eloquently described as ‘‘the huts of  Barbara Burlison Mooney is assistant professor at the Schoolof Art and Art History at the University of Iowa.Support for this essay was provided by the University of Iowa’sOld Gold Fellowship and the Obermann Center for AdvancedStudies. The author is indebted to Sally Mills and Ellen Weiss fortheir wise suggestions and corrections. 1 ‘‘Southern Romanticism,’’  House and Garden   77  (March 1940 ):  16 – 17 ,  67 ; ‘‘Hermitage, Savannah River Vicinity,’’ Historic American Buildings Survey, GA- 225 , Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. n  2004  by The Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum,Inc. All rights reserved.  0084 - 0416 / 04 / 3901 - 0003  $ 3 . 00  history’s shame.’’ 2 Confronting or avoiding theshameofhistory’shutsconstitutesthecentralpres-ervation issue that must be addressed at publicexhibits of slave habitation.This review of exhibits of extant slave dwellingsummarizes what can be learned from current interpretive practice. In the summer of   2003 , Iundertook a multistate tour of surviving slave sites.I examined these places of bondage—and a sur-prisingnumberofthemsurvive—asiftheywereanexhibition devoted to the theme of the domesticarchitecture of the American slave. The ‘‘exhibi-tion’’ included only those places that an average,educated amateur interested in history might view rather than sites open only tomore privileged pro-fessionals in the field. This conceptual exhibitionposed the question: What would a tourist learnfrom and experience by looking at buildings that are the literal embodiments of history’s huts? Iam not the only one asking these questions. AdamGoodheart’s  2001  article in  Historic Preservation   ex-posed the problems of inappropriate preservationpractices, specifically the adaptive reuse of formerslave quarters as bed-and-breakfast tourist accom-modations.Alargersociologicalstudycanbefoundin Jennifer L. Eichstedt and Stephen Small’s  2002 book,  Representations of Slavery: Race and Ideology in Southern Plantation Museums.  The authors demon-stratehowwhitedominanceisperpetuatedthroughthe commemoration of history. This essay, whichfocuses more narrowly on architecture, also buildson the scholarship that addresses power relationsreproduced in art museums, history museums,and house museums. 3 The imaginary exhibi-tion reviewed in this essay recounts objective Fig.  1.  Slave quarters from Hermitage Plantation, now at Greenfield Village, The Henry Ford,Dearborn, Mich., relocated after  1934 . (Photo, Barbara Burlison Mooney,  2003 .) 2  James Oliver Horton, ‘‘Presenting Slavery: The Perils of Telling America’s Racial Story,’’  Public Historian   21 , no.  4  (Fall 1999 ):  19 – 38 . The phrase is found in her poem ‘‘Still I Rise’’;Maya Angelou,  The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou   (New  York: Random House,  1994 ), pp.  163 – 64 . 3  Adam Goodheart, ‘‘The Bonds of History,’’  Historic Preserva- tion   53 , no.  5  (September–October  2001 ):  36 – 43 ,  94 . Jennifer L.Eichstedt and Stephen Small,  Representations of Slavery: Race and Ideology in Southern Plantation Museums   (Washington, D.C.: 44  Winterthur Portfolio   39:1  information and offers subjective impressionsdrawn from more than thirty sites of slave habita-tion.Ifocusonthepreservationandinterpretationofextantslavedwellings—whatseemstoworkwell, whatclearlydoesnot,andwhatbegsfurtherdiscus-sion among architectural historians, preservationprofessionals, and, most important, nonprofession-als who seek enlightenment by attending to the visual messages at these sites. A visitor searching for examples of the archi-tecture of bondage will need to prepare and re-search an itinerary carefully. Amongprint sources, African American Historic Places,  which is based onthe records of the National Register of HistoricPlaces, provides solid guidance. This book shouldbe keptclose at hand becauseit contains historicalinformation that is often not available when onearrives at a site. For example, the Boyette house,near Kenly, North Carolina, is only identified at its site with a simple sign, but it is described in thehandbook as preserving a rare example of an ex-tantstickandmudchimney(fig. 3 ).Individualstateguides to African American historical sites are alsoavailable,including Virginia Landmarks of Black His- tory   and  A Travel Guide to Black Historical Sites and Landmarks in North Carolina  . All these guides com-prise mostly post-Emancipation sites, and they em-phasize, quite understandably, places of agency,such as schools and churches, rather than placesofvictimizationandsurvival,suchasslavequarters.In creating an itinerary, visitors should recognizethat a number of important assemblages of slavehousing, such as Howard’s Neck, Green Hill, andBremo plantations in Virginia, are all privately owned and inaccessible to the casual visitor. Berry Hill plantation, near South Boston, Virginia, hasbeen transformed into a gated and perhaps intim-idatingbusinessconferencecenter,anditsmostim-portantslavequarterwasrecentlydestroyedbyfire. 4 Fig.  2.  Slave quarters at Hermitage Plantation, Chatham County, Ga., built after  1820 . (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HABS, GA,  26 -SAV. V,  1 – 9 .) (Photo, Charles E. Peterson, 1934 .) Smithsonian Institution Press,  2002 ). Only a few examples of scholarship on power relations need mentioning here: KevinLynch,  What Time Is This Place?   (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1972 ); Richard Handler and Eric Gable,  The New History in an Old Museum: Creating the Past at Colonial Williamsburg   (Durham: DukeUniversity Press,  1997 ). Interpretation practices in a formerDutch colony are examined in Julie Hochstrasser, ‘‘Legacies of Slavery? The Stakes of Not Seeing’’ (paper delivered at the con-ference ‘‘Globalisation, Diaspora, and Identity Formation: TheLegacy of Slavery and Indentured Labour in the Caribbean,’’ Uni- versity of Suriname, Paramaribo, February   26 – 29 ,  2004 ). 4 Beth L. Savage, ed.,  African American Historic Places   (New  York: John Wiley and Sons,  1994 ), p.  379 . Calder Loth, ed., Virginia Landmarks of Black History   (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia,  1995 ); and Lenwood G. Davis,  A Travel Guide to Black Historical Sites and Landmarks in North Carolina   (Winston-Salem, N.C.: Bandit Books,  1991 ). Clifton Ellis, e-mail message toauthor, October  5 ,  2004 . On Berry Hill, see Loth,  Virginia Land- marks,  pp.  35 – 38 . An analysis of the slave dwellings at Berry Hill will appear in Clifton Ellis,  Building Berry Hill: The Plantation Land- scape of Antebellum Virginia,  forthcoming. Looking for History’s Huts   45  The Internet also proves useful in finding slavequarters. Not only can it provide up-to-date infor-mation including hours of operation and admis-sioncharges,butsomesites,suchasthestoneslavequarters in Arcola, Virginia, are mentioned only on the Internet (fig.  4 ). However, researching onthe Internet can be frustrating too. For example,numerous Web sites are devoted to the Crenshaw House near Equality, Illinois. The two-and-a-half-story Greek revival mansion, built perhaps in the 1830 s, may have functioned as a stop in the re- verse Underground Railroad, in which free blacks werekidnappedinfreestates,transportedtoslave-holding states, and sold into slavery. The build-ing may also have quartered bondspeople hiredfrom slave states to work in the region’s salt mines.Unfortunately, some of the Web sites do not makeclear that the Crenshaw House is closed to thepublic pending funding from the State of Illinois,itsowner,forahistoricstructuresreport.Similarly,the site for the ruins of the slave quarters onCumberland Island, Georgia, did not indicatethat visiting the site entails a ferryboat ride and aten-mile-round-trip hike. Less intrepid scholars will need to garner information about the sitefrom a data-rich National Park Service Web site orfrom Robert Ascher and Charles H. Fairbanks’s 1971  report in  Historical Archaeology,  one of theearly articles in the field of African Americanarchaeology. 5  Although slavery was not limited to theSouth, finding extant slave quarters in the Northis more difficult. In Medford, Massachusetts, forinstance, the eighteenth-century frame and brickkitchen in which some of Isaac Royall Jr.’s slaveslived presently functions as an office and meet-ing hall and is not open to the public (fig.  5 ). Therecently discovered site in the attic of the Lott House in Brooklyn, New York, is undergoing Fig.  3.  Boyette slave house, near Kenly, N.C., n.d. (Photo, Barbara Burlison Mooney,  2003 .) 5 See, for example, Phillip Troutman’s Web site, http://www.stratalum.org/quarters.html (accessed December  2004 ). The stoneslave quarters near Arcola are currently threatened by develop-ment, and local preservationists are attempting to save the build-ing; Ned Douglass, telephone conversation with author, August  17 ,  2004 . Robert Ascher and Charles H. Fairbanks, ‘‘Excavation of a Slave Cabin, U.S.A.,’’  Historical Archaeology   5  ( 1971 ):  3 – 17 . TheCumberland Island Web site can be found at http://www.cr.nps.gov/seac/arch 79 .htm (accessed November  2004 ). 46  Winterthur Portfolio   39:1
Related Search
We Need Your Support
Thank you for visiting our website and your interest in our free products and services. We are nonprofit website to share and download documents. To the running of this website, we need your help to support us.

Thanks to everyone for your continued support.

No, Thanks