Motivated by national movements and protests associated with Black Lives Matter, and the pushback and removal of Confederate iconography, this talk critically explores power, politics and activism around public knowledge of and use of plantation spaces today. I draw from my book Speaking for the Enslaved – Heritage Interpretation at Antebellum Plantation Sites and my extensive work in plantation sites in the Southeast region of the US from North Carolina to Florida, as well as my work with people and communities with colonial histories of enslaved labor in plantations spaces in the Caribbean. I enter this discussion as an academic in conversation with artists, politicians, organizations, institutions, and local communities focused on addressing public memory, heritage and memorialization, and revisiting what it means to inhabit plantation spaces today as sites of tourism and leisure and as sites of consciousness and social justice.
Public perceptions of antebellum and postbellum plantations are often influenced by depictions that posit the centrality of a master–slave dynamic without critique. When tourists visit public plantation sites, much is made of the “big house”, which has often been preserved and maintained at antebellum levels of European elegance. Its architecture, furnishings, and grandeur are the focal point of the plantation tour. Other material reminders, like slave-house structures are less obviously acknowledged. Scholars are active participants in creating and interpreting representations of postbellum plantations as public heritage sites that shape national memory. What tools and theoretical approaches can inform how we interpret, analyze, and represent characterizations of plantation life today? In this talk, I link the past to the present through academic scholarship and through recognition of public activism and concrete action being undertaken through governmental/legislative change, artistic re-imaginings, and historical justice as it pertains to plantation spaces and those who were enslaved and often buried on these grounds.
Antoinette Jackson is Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of South Florida (USF) in Tampa, Florida, and Director of the USF Heritage Research Lab. Her research focuses on identity and representation at public sites of history and heritage, and she has led numerous research projects in the US and in the Caribbean. She was recently awarded a USF funded research grant for her project entitled African American Burial Grounds & Remembering Project – Living Communities Challenging Silenced Histories in Florida. She is editor of the international journal Present Pasts and guest editor with Rachel Breunlin of a special issue entitled “Decolonizing Ways of Knowing: Heritage, Living Communities, and Indigenous Built Environments” for the international open access journal Genealogy. Her book Speaking for the Enslaved – Heritage Interpretation at Antebellum Plantation Sites, was published by Routledge in 2012. And her new book, Heritage, Tourism, and Race – the Other Side of Leisure was published by Routledge in 2020.