Liberty & Slavery: The Paradox of America’s Founding Fathers

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Drayton Hall is pleased to present the first Charleston-area screening of the award-winning documentary film “Liberty & Slavery: The Paradox of America’s Founding Fathers,” produced and directed by filmmaker A. Troy Thomas of Inertia Films.

America’s Founding Fathers were men yearning for a nation of individual liberty and unprecedented independence. Thomas Jefferson expressed this desire in the Declaration of Independence in 1776: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” But the origins of America were already seeded with a cruel paradox because many of the liberty-loving, southern Founding Fathers, including Jefferson and Washington, were also slave owners. Slavery was commonplace in the 18th century—not just in America, but in the world.

But why did the non-slave-owning Founding Fathers compromise with the slave-owning Founders when it came to ratifying the U.S. Constitution?

How do we make sense of this paradox?

Watch as “Liberty & Slavery” searches for answers through a series of interviews with respected authors, historians, theologians, and many other notables.

Thursday, September 8
The Charleston Museum
360 Meeting Street
5:30 – 8:00 pm

    Free and open to the public. No advance reservations required.

Doors open at 5:30 pm with a reception and introductions by Carter C. Hudgins, President & CEO of the Drayton Hall Preservation Trust, and filmmaker Troy Thomas. A Q&A session will follow the screening.

Watch Trailer

 

For additional information, please contact:
Tara Odom, Special Events Coordinator
(843) 769-2627 or todom@draytonhall.org

Curating the Black Atlantic: Race, Memory, and Museum Making

Jonathan Holloway

Jonathan Holloway

The 2016 Drayton Hall Distinguished Speakers Series – Thursday, March 24th

Speaker: Dean Jonathan Holloway, Ph.D., Yale College

Venue: South Carolina Society Hall, 72 Meeting Street, Charleston, SC

 

Beginning in the 1970s, museum curators began to search for materials and artifacts they could use to interpret the black experience in the Americas. Their efforts flew in the face of previous scholarship that declared that there were almost no artifacts available to understand the black past. Using new technologies, the new generation of curators argued that their predecessors were wrong. Whereas earlier scholars only saw “absence,” the post-civil rights curators concluded that they were surrounded by evidence of a black past. The absence, it turns out, was the evidence.

How can we make sense of this conclusion? What can we learn by studying the history of absence? What does the black past tell us about how the Atlantic world was made and about the role of museums in making that world?

Jonathan Holloway (GRD, 1995) is Dean of Yale College and Edmund S. Morgan Professor of African American Studies, History, and American Studies. He specializes in post-emancipation United States history with a focus on social and intellectual history. He is the author of Confronting the Veil: Abram Harris Jr., E. Franklin Frazier, and Ralph Bunche, 1919–1941 (2002) and Jim Crow Wisdom: Memory and Identity in Black America Since 1940 (2013), both with the University of North Carolina Press. He edited Ralph Bunche’s A Brief and Tentative Analysis of Negro Leadership (NYU Press, 2005) and co-edited Black Scholars on the Line: Race, Social Science, and American Thought in the 20th Century (Notre Dame University Press, 2007). He has written an introduction for a new edition of W.E.B. Du Bois’s Souls of Black Folk, published by Yale University Press in 2015. He has held fellowships from the W.E.B. Du Bois Research Institute at Harvard University, the Stanford Humanities Center, and the Ford Foundation. He was an Alphonse Fletcher Sr. Fellow in 2011–2012. Currently, he is a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians.

About Drayton HallFounded in 1738, Drayton Hall is the nation’s earliest example of fully executed Palladian architecture and the oldest preserved plantation house in America still open to the public. After seven generations, the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, and numerous hurricanes and earthquakes, the main house remains in nearly original condition. A National Historic Landmark, Drayton Hall is a property of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and is administered by The Drayton Hall Preservation Trust.

When the National Trust acquired Drayton Hall in 1974, it made the decision to “preserve” or stabilize the site. This action—unprecedented in its day—set Drayton Hall on a course unique among historic sites: it preserved its authentic, centuries-old timeline of history rather than restoring it to one specific period. Because it has never been modernized with electric lighting, plumbing, or central heating or air conditioning, the main house remains unfurnished, allowing the beauty of the architectural details to come through.

Click here for information on all of our 2016 Distinguished Speakers.

Doors open at 5:30pm with a Wine and Cheese Reception.
Presentations start promptly at 6:30pm.
No advance reservations; please arrive early as seating is limited.

The 2016 Drayton Hall Distinguished Speakers Series
is sponsored by The Francis Marion Hotel, Charleston, SC.

Francis Marion Hotel

Mark your Calendars: the 2016 Drayton Hall Distinguished Speakers Series

Website HeaderThe Friends of Drayton Hall are pleased to present the third season of the Drayton Hall Distinguished Speakers Series. Beginning with the opening event of the 2016 season, you’ll experience a range of thought-provoking presentations related to America’s history and culture by some of today’s most respected historians, archaeologists, and curators. Speakers will also highlight the connections of Charleston and Drayton Hall to their research interests, and answer questions from the audience. For additional information on this year’s speakers, please visit the Drayton Hall Distinguished Speakers Series website.

The 2016 Drayton Hall Distinguished Speakers Series is sponsored by The Francis Marion Hotel, Charleston, SCFMlogo

SPRING 2016 SERIES

Thursday, February 18, 2016
Patricia Lowe Smith, Curator of Historic Architectural Resources, Drayton Hall Preservation Trust
The Best Portico: Rehabilitating an Architectural Icon

Thursday, March 24, 2016
Dean Jonathan Holloway, Dean of Yale College and Edmund S. Morgan Professor of African American Studies, History, and American Studies
Curating the Black Atlantic: Race, Memory, and Museum Making

Thursday, April 21, 2016
Henry Noltie, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
John Hope: Botanist of the Scottish Enlightenment

FALL 2016 SERIES

Thursday, September 15, 2016
Sarah Stroud Clarke, Archaeologist & Curator of Collections, Drayton Hall Preservation Trust
What Lies Beneath: The Archaeology of the pre-Drayton Era

Thursday, October 20, 2016
Dr. William M. Kelso, Director of Research & Interpretation, Historic Jamestowne
Jamestown, The Buried Truth

Thursday, November 17, 2016 – SPONSORED BY CHIPSTONE 
Dr. David S. Shields, Carolina Distinguished Professor and the McClintock Professor of Southern Letters, University of South Carolina
Creating the World Orchard                              

 LOCATION

South Carolina Society Hall
72 Meeting Street, Charleston SC 29401

Ample on-street parking and public lot parking
is available within a block of the South Carolina Society Hall

Doors open at 5:30 pm with a Wine and Cheese Reception.
Presentations start promptly at 6:30 pm.
No advance reservations; please arrive early as seating is limited.

For more information, please contact: Tara White Odom, Development Events Coordinator, 843-769-2627 or by e-mail

Building Bridges Symposium Highlights Latest Research and Discoveries from Drayton Hall

header1Join us on January 29 and 30 for Breaking Ground and Building Bridges, a symposium that brings together leading scholars from Charleston’s preservation and history organizations to present new research on the material culture of the Carolina Lowcountry. Over the course of two days, speakers will discuss exciting initiatives and cutting–edge research projects related to archaeology, the decorative arts, social history, and post-Reconstruction Charleston. Critically-acclaimed artist Jonathan Green will give the Keynote Address at the Building Bridges Symposium.

This year, Drayton Hall will be represented in the program by Cameron Moon, Preservation Coordinator, who will present “The Caretaker’s House: Vernacular Architecture and the Postbellum African American Community at Drayton Hall” on Friday at 2:15 pm. Ms. Moon will speak about how her research of the caretaker’s house has led to a better understanding of the African American community living at Drayton Hall from the late 19th to mid-20th century and has helped to develop a more accurate portrayal of the tenant houses and landscape during phosphate mining.

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c. 1915, one of the earlier photographs of the caretaker’s house shows it in its original location next to the main house. This is a rare view, as it is of the back of the house and shows its original footprint before an addition on the back was built in 1923.

The Symposium is a collaboration between Historic Charleston Foundation, Drayton Hall Preservation Trust, The Charleston Museum and Preservation Society of Charleston to facilitate dialogue among many of the Lowcountry Institutions. All proceeds will benefit the sponsoring institutions. Symposium tickets are $125/person for the general public and free for students.

See full schedule and purchase tickets

 

Camerodrayton_hs_06n Moon is a graduate of the College of Charleston with a degree in Historic Preservation and Community Planning and a minor in Anthropology. Her honors thesis chronicled the adaptive reuse of the Cigar Factory on East Bay Street and its relationship with the surrounding neighborhood. Before joining the DHPT staff in September 2014, she worked for Edgewood Builders, where she learned construction, preservation, and restoration techniques at Medway Plantation and houses in the historic district. Cameron is currently working on ongoing Drayton Hall conservation projects as well as converting the museum shop, housed in the former caretaker’s house, into an interpretive museum space.

A New and Different Kind of Historical Preservation: Preserving Tangible Expressions of Public Sympathy for Emanuel AME Church by George W. McDaniel

Photo credit: Andrew Knapp, Post & Courier

Photo credit: Andrew Knapp, Post & Courier

I wanted to share Andrew Knapp’s moving article in the Post & Courier, which was first published on August 8th. It describes the lengths to which people from all over the world are going in order to express their heartfelt words of sympathy for the tragic massacre on June 17th and how the Emanuel AME Church and its members plus many volunteers are responding by preserving thousands of messages of love, support, and prayer.

http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20150808/PC16/150809552

Elizabeth, “Liz,” Alston, historian of Emanuel AME church and a former member of Drayton Hall’s Site Advisory Council, is leading this effort to archive these items, and I and other Charleston museum professionals are pitching in. On Friday and Saturday after the shootings, I visited the church to pay my respects and was struck by the number of tangible expressions of concern and support that people left in front of the church: hand-written notes, teddy bears, banners filled with signatures, hand-made crosses, candles, paintings, photographs, and scores of bouquets of flowers. They told of this moment in time, not only for our community but for our nation. It had not yet rained, and I was concerned that when the summer storms came, as they surely would in June, they would spoil the signed banners and artifacts. I called Liz and asked if they had plans for their preservation. She explained that, as a historian, she was thinking in the same way, but that the church was in the midst of grieving and had lost its leadership and was focused on conducting funerals and caring for any number of things large and small. She too was devastated, but nonetheless, suggested we meet.

After signing a banner in front of Emanuel on Friday after the tragedy and seeing all the other testimonials, I contacted Liz Alston, historian at Emanuel.

After signing a banner in front of Emanuel on Friday after the tragedy and seeing all the other testimonials, I contacted Liz Alston, historian at Emanuel.

Cross with notes and artifacts in front of Emanuel.

Cross with notes and artifacts in front of Emanuel.

Messages from the heart and soul.

Messages from the heart and soul.

I called a range of museum and preservation professionals, including John Hildreth, regional vice president of Eastern Field Services of the National Trust, Faye Jensen, director of the SC Historical Society, Toni Carrier, co-founder of Lowcountry Africana and a former fellow with Drayton Hall, Rebecca Campbell, a Drayton Hall descendant, who grew up near Emanuel, Kitty Robinson from the Historic Charleston Foundation, Carl Borick, director of the Charleston Museum, and others. Each responded positively, and just a week after the tragedy, we met in the ground floor room, where the shootings had taken place a week earlier .

First meeting of memorial committee, Liz Alston,Toni Carrier,Rebecca Campbell,Va Ellison,Faye Jensen,JH, GM (2)

First meeting of the memorial committee. Clockwise from top: Liz Alston, Toni Carrier, Rebecca Campbell, Virginia Ellison, Faye Jensen, John Hildreth, and George McDaniel.

It was discomforting to be in that same space yet also uplifting to see the life of the church continue, as members, young and old, came and went, comforted one another, and got ready for the Bible study that evening, the same study conducted a week earlier with the assassin present. Discretely to one side were chamber music musicians, including Charleston violinist Yuri Becker, who were there to play and to express through music their support for the Bible study that evening. We had our meeting, got the ball rolling for preserving artifacts, and since it had not rained, we brought a number of them into the church, including a large cross, and stored them in a side room.

Unidentified priest and Virginia Ellison remove signed banners for safekeeping on first day.

Foreground, L-R: Unidentified priest and Virginia Ellison remove signed banners for safekeeping on first day.

Liz Alston and me, in front of cross with note cards we saved on the first day

Me and Liz Alston in front of a cross with note cards of support. This was one of the first precious items that we rescued a week after the shootings and just before a thunderstorm.

While we were retrieving artifacts, a press conference was held directly in front of the church. About a half dozen pastors were gathered, and I was glad to see among them The Rev. Callie Walpole, an Episcopal priest in Charleston whom I know and who is the niece of friends of mine. The principal speaker was The Rev. Nelson Rivers, pastor of Charity Missionary Baptist Church and vice president of the National Action Network. Speaking forthrightly into television cameras, he explained in no uncertain terms that this was the time for “respect.” Protest has its time, but not at this time. These families have experienced loss beyond our understanding and will be respected during their times of grieving, as will their church and community members. With force, he declared, “Malcolm X was about respect. Martin Luther King was about respect. The civil rights movement is about respect. And if you don’t understand respect, then you don’t belong here at this time.” It was a challenge and an assurance, both for that moment and for our future.

Later that night a thunderstorm struck, so our retrieval of memorials had been just in time. Our group met again the next week, assessed progress, and retrieved more artifacts. Virginia Ellison and Celeste Wiley, archivists from SC Historical Society, and Karen Emmons, archivist with Historic Charleston Foundation, proved to be key players and offered the assistance of the Charleston Archives, Libraries and Museums association (CALM). Together, their association devised a well-organized process by which artifacts would be systematically photographed in situ and then retrieved from outside for safekeeping. Liz also contacted Mayor Joe Riley, and knowing Liz as he does, he quickly responded by offering both staff support (Danny Burbage and Megan Moughan) as well as temporary storage space in the St. Julian Divine Community Center not far from Emanuel. It was agreed that the articles would be carefully stored there until a more permanent home could be found. Thanks to CALM and the church, volunteers have since been retrieving artifacts on a regular basis and taking photographs before they were removed — papers, notes, teddy bears, canvas frames with inscriptions, crosses, even small rocks with words like “love” and “hope” painted on them and arranged in a circle. In fact, what we won’t remove are the fire hydrant and two or three crepe myrtles in front of the church now covered with hand-written messages and signatures.

At a later meeting, we met with The Rev. Norman Goff, Presiding Elder and interim minister for Emanuel AME, whom many of you saw and heard during the televised funeral services. A thoughtful man with a lot on his shoulders and his heart, he expressed his prayerful support and appreciation for our preservation effort. During our meeting, who came by? Gov. Chris Christie, candidate for President. He offered his sympathies and his appreciation for the preservation work we’re doing. Joining us too were historian Bernard Powers and Mary Battle Pinckney from the Avery Research Center from the College of Charleston.

In subsequent blogs, I’ll report more, but suffice it to say that in the near future, we will be developing a longer term plan, the development of which John Hildreth has much experience and expertise to provide, and for which, fortunately, he has offered to help. We intend to learn from other sites, like Ground Zero, the Boston Marathon, the Vietnam Memorial, and 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. As an example of a future blog, just this week, Edward Crawford, vice chairman of our board, visited Emanuel with me, and Liz Alston showed us around. Edward, a skilled photographer, took pictures, which we’ll feature here later, and was deeply touched by the power of place and of people.

I’ve been deeply grateful to the work with Liz Alston, the Rev. Goff, members of Emanuel, and staff from other museums and preservation organizations in Charleston. Even national support has been provided by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture thanks to Lonnie Bunch, inaugural director and former Drayton Hall Site Advisory Council member, and Dr. Rex M. Ellis, Associate Director for Curatorial Affairs and a friend of mine. The organization CALM is especially to be thanked for its remarkable dedication to preserving the public response of sympathy, hope, and support to this landmark moment in the history of Charleston and our nation.

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George W. McDaniel recently retired from his position as President and Executive Director of Drayton Hall. He is currently on sabbatical, during which time he has volunteered his services on behalf of Emanuel AME Church. He returns to Drayton Hall on October 1st to work with the Board of Trustees on several projects through June 2016.

All photos are courtesy of George W. McDaniel unless otherwise noted.

Towards Truth and Reconciliation at Drayton Hall

By Dr. Dale Rosengarten, Founding Director of the Jewish Heritage Collection at the College of Charleston Library

Students listening to Drayton Hall's preservation department staff introduce them to the site.

Students listening to Drayton Hall’s preservation department staff introduce them to the site. Photograph courtesy of Dr. Dale Rosengarten.

On a cold afternoon at the end of February, I accompanied 20 first-year students at the College of Charleston on a field trip to Drayton Hall. The class I am teaching, “Charleston as a Classroom,” features a field trip every Thursday, with an extra hour added to the schedule so we have plenty of time. As we boarded the bus for Drayton Hall, I was happy to see we had 100% attendance, despite the frigid temperatures and the fact that we were just one day away from spring break.

We were greeted at the edge of the parking lot by Cameron Moon, a recent College of Charleston grad who works for Drayton Hall as the Preservation Coordinator. She was soon joined by Carter C. Hudgins, Deputy Director, and Rosemary Giesy, the interpreter who would lead our tour. Cameron and Carter talked about the history of the property and their professional involvement. We headed across the lawn and Rosemary began to tell us about the history of Drayton Hall and the people who lived there.

Drayton Hall Historic House Interpreter Rosemary Giesy, who was described at the

Drayton Hall Historic House Interpreter Rosemary Giesy, who was described as the “cutest tour guide ever” by student Lawson Thompson. Photograph courtesy of Lawson Thompson.

The house and grounds were as spectacular as ever, but what made the place come to life was Rosemary’s animation and deep knowledge of the subject. As the mother of a C of C alum her appreciation of her young audience was palpable. We explored the house from top to bottom, finishing up on the ground floor (as the temperature continued to drop!) with a slide show about Drayton Hall’s African American history.

“The scenery was beautiful but the house was even more beautiful, if not for the view, for its elaborateness. The fine detail that went into the wood-carving and crafting of the estate was amazing. There was such precision and small detail to observe. I found it amazing that the original paint was still there, if not a little worn. I loved hearing the story of what each room was used for whether it be a bedroom or a room to entertain guests, a dining room, another living room, or even a “VIP” sort of room used for entertaining the finest of visitors. I loved hearing about the last Drayton to live in the house and about her many, many dog paintings in the front room.

Learning about the slaves who worked there and their relationship to the Draytons was interesting. The basement was dark and colder than the rest of the house and if that wasn’t sad enough, the site of their unmarked graves with the beautiful arch and peaceful scenery did it for me. Our guide was so warm, welcoming and knowledgeable about everything there was to know about the plantation. She was so memorable with her big red coat and excited talk.”
—Haley Olds, student

(For additional student responses, visit the class’s blog.)

Shortly after our visit, Dr. George W. McDaniel, president and executive director of Drayton Hall, made an offer I couldn’t refuse: to bring a group of descendants of Drayton Hall—both heirs of the owners and descendants of the enslaved—to the college for a panel presentation. We scheduled the program for March 18 and invited not only my students, but also Grant Gilmore’s historic preservation majors, Simon Lewis’s English class, and Ruth Ellen Gruber, the Jewish Studies Program’s Distinguished Visiting Scholar this term.

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Shown above and below: sixty-plus people packed into Room 227 in Addlestone Library, and McDaniel started the session by introducing our guests: Catherine Brown Braxton, Rebecca Campbell, and Annie Meyers—all relations of Richmond Bowens, whose ancestors were brought by the Draytons from Barbados in the 1670s —and Shelby Nelson, grandson of the last Drayton to own Drayton Hall.

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George McDaniel introduces the descendants.

Dr. George W. McDaniel introduces the descendants.

First we watched a short and powerful video, after which the four panelists spoke about their connections to Drayton Hall and the way that race relations have changed in their lifetimes. Annie Meyers said her cousin Richmond Bowens helped her overcome the negative feeling she had toward Drayton Hall, where her ancestors were enslaved. Richmond’s fondness for the place and close friendship with Charles Drayton gave her a different sense, and she began to feel comfortable and positive.

Rebecca Campbell. left foreground.
Rebecca Campbell, left foreground.

“I see a change in generations,” said Rebecca Campbell. “Now we hang out together, go to conferences together—it was not always so. We’ve learned to love and forgive. We are now seeing the light. To make America grow we got to work together.”

Shelby Nelson, left center in green shirt.
Shelby Nelson, left center in green shirt.

Shelby Nelson described his feeling of “coming home” when he reconnected with Drayton Hall. He called the house “a real treasure” and said that in 1974, when his grandfather Charles Drayton and great-uncle Frank Drayton decided to sell the property to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, “it was the best thing we ever did.”

Catherine Braxton turned the discussion in a historical direction. She and her sister Rebecca own the Borough Houses, historic properties at the foot of Calhoun Street in Charleston that are remnants of a largely African American neighborhood. Catherine declared: “Drayton Hall is my roots.” After emancipation, the freed people stayed and worked to earn something to live on. “My family left a legacy there. My grandfather was born there as a free man.”

Catherine Braxton, far right.

Catherine Braxton, far right.

“Coming to the table,” Catherine said, is what meetings of descendants of slave owners and of the enslaved are called, and they are happening in many places. “We’ve been wounded and need to heal.” She welcomes opportunities to confront the demons of slavery. In 1978 she visited Gorée Island, off the coast of Dakar, Senegal, where captives were once bought and sold. “I could smell, feel the pain.”

Annie Myers, second from left.

Annie Meyers, second from left.

While Annie did not go to Africa, she found deep roots at Drayton Hall, where her grandmother worked, sewing and cooking and sweeping the yard. With the help of genealogist Toni Carrier, she has made progress tracing her lineage. She is now “doing my DNA,” to get further clues about where her people came from. With some prompting from George, Annie also described how she got involved in the sit-in at Kress’s on King and Wentworth Street in 1960. She joined the picket line demanding the right to sit at the lunch counter. “Something needed to be done,” she said, “and we did it.” For more on the sit-in, check out this article by the Post and Courier: “A Lunch Unserved: How the 1960 Kress sit-in changed Charleston.”

The Drayton descendants made a profound impact on my students, adding a layer of understanding to what they learned on the field trip. I asked them to write down their reactions to the panel and here’s what they had to say:

“It was the most beautiful act of forgiveness I have ever seen. Never before had I witnessed history resolved in such an elegant and hopeful manor. There was so much love between them all that I felt as if we too were being welcomed into the family.” —Emma Lieberman

I found the entire presentation quite moving. I got chills [watching the video] as one of the descendants of the Bowens family started singing in the graveyard of her ancestors. The connection between the Draytons and the Bowens today is heartwarming and is a perfect example of the impacts of history, time, and understanding. They say they are like a family, but it is clear the relationship and respect for one another goes much deeper.” —Kristen Kita

“It was really special to me to have descendants of the former slaves that worked at Drayton Hall and Shelby Nelson, a descendant of the Draytons, come talk to everyone. I found it fascinating to see them sit together at a table sharing what one house means to them. It warmed my heart to see how close the families have somewhat become considering their history so long ago. I am even more thankful for the fact that Drayton Hall is open to the public and we are able to appreciate and admire such a beautiful home that holds many memories along with untold stories.” —Lawson Thompson

“The video and presentation explaining the history of the Drayton Plantation brought the site to life through the stories and experiences of those closely connected to the families who lived there, and most especially, those who worked as slaves. I was delighted to see that the descendants of those who lived on Drayton are still very involved with the plantation and keep close contact with one another.” 
—Mattie Rogers

“The discussion and video about Drayton Hall were fantastic and inspiring. It was great being able to ask the panelists my questions and they did a very good job providing detailed answers. The way they are able to share their personal feelings and stories with us is amazing.” —Owens Morgan

“The presentation was a great experience for many reasons including actually meeting descendants of Drayton Hall. It was also enjoyable and interesting to hear them out on their own perspective of their historic lineage. Their perspectives were invaluable and appreciated. It was awesome to see the complete reconciliation of the Draytons on behalf of the descendants of their slaves because it really highlights the long way we’ve come in race relations.” —Mikey Bishof

“First of all, I want to thank each and every member of the panel for coming and speaking to us. I feel that the best way for us to learn is by hearing the stories first hand, and I think the way it was structured allowed us to hear from all sides. . . . We are most likely the last generation to be able to hear these stories from a first or second hand account, and so in order to keep these viewpoints alive we need to listen and in turn share their stories.” —Paige Claire Mesher

Drayton Hall's upper great hall. Photograph by P.C. Mescher.

Drayton Hall’s upper great hall. Photograph courtesy of Paige Claire Mescher.

“It was a great experience getting to hear stories from people who are directly related to Drayton Hall. They had very interesting things to say and they made Drayton Hall easier to understand. It was a great opportunity that not many people get to experience. I thought it was very nice and thoughtful of the presenters to take time out of their day to come talk to us.” —Caroline Whitaker

“The Drayton Hall descendants who came to speak to us were very interesting. I thought that it was very cool and would have loved to stay longer.” —Allie Garland

While the take-away message was one of reconciliation, the Q&A session broached a number of thorny issues facing the field of public history. Can plantation site interpretation do justice to the lives of the slaves as well as the masters? How can reluctant descendants be persuaded to “come to the table?” How can the field of historic preservation and museum studies attract more African American practitioners? What can be learned from examples of “Dark Tourism” elsewhere? I asked my colleague Ruth Gruber, as a specialist in Jewish heritage tourism in Eastern Europe, to ponder this question.

Photos courtesy of Dr. Dale Rosengarten unless otherwise noted.

Dark Tourism: A Comparative Perspective

By Ruth Ellen Gruber, Norman and Gerry Sue Arnold Distinguished Visiting Chair at the College of Charleston

In March, descendants of Drayton Hall—both Drayton family members and descendants of the enslaved—participated in a panel discussion at the College of Charleston. Standing (l to r): Ruth Ellen Gruber, Lainie Lesser-Mark, Dale Rosengarten, George McDaniel, Grant Gilmore. Seated (l to r): Annie Meyers, Rebecca Campbell, Shelby Nelson, Catherine Braxton.

In March, descendants of Drayton Hall—both Drayton family members and descendants of the enslaved—participated in a panel discussion at the College of Charleston. Standing (l to r): Ruth Ellen Gruber, Lainie Lesser-Mark, Dale Rosengarten, George McDaniel, Grant Gilmore. Seated (l to r): Annie Meyers, Rebecca Campbell, Shelby Nelson, and Catherine Braxton.

More than 20 years ago I wrote a book called Upon the Doorposts of Thy House: Jewish Life in East-Central Europe, Yesterday and Today. The title referred to the mezuzah—the encased prayer scroll Jews place on their doorposts, indicating a house as the home of a Jew.

In post-Holocaust Europe you could often find the grooves or scars where mezuzahs had been removed or painted over during or after the Shoah—thus forming symbolic mezuzahs that indicated a house where Jews once lived. In my book, I extrapolated further, suggesting that the surviving physical relics of pre-war Jewish life—synagogue buildings, Jewish cemeteries, even if abandoned, in ruined condition or transformed for other use, also served as symbolic mezuzahs to mark towns, villages, cities, and even countries where Jews once lived and do not live now.

My intent was to show how buildings and other physical sites can be talismans and touchstones, opening the way into memory and history.

George McDaniel made this same idea explicit in his introduction to the panel of Drayton Hall descendants. “History did not happen to someone, somewhere else, but to you,” he said. “You grow up a product of history. Preserving buildings means also preserving the story behind the buildings, making a connection with people. Why is a place important? How do you feel connected?”

From the Jewish perspective, visiting Jewish historical sites in post-Holocaust, post-Communist Europe can be a very positive experience, emphasizing Jewish life, history and culture; but the experience also falls under what is now known as Dark Tourism—tourism to sites of what we can call “negative” history, “negative” experience: death, destruction, war.

Sites of slavery also fall under Dark Tourism, though this aspect of a historic site (such as a plantation or genteel antebellum home) often becomes masked, elided, or simply footnoted in the presentation of beautiful buildings and gardens for tourist consumption.

Much of this boils down to “who controls the narrative”—and to whom is the narrative directed: issues that we have been dealing with in the class I have been teaching, “Memory, Heritage, Renewal.” Although the main focus of our class is Jewish heritage and memory and their role and representation in Europe, we have been able to draw parallels with the way that African American heritage, history, and culture are presented here in Charleston and the Lowcountry.

I was delighted that students from my class were in attendance at the panel presentation featuring the descendants of Drayton Hall, as the discussion clearly demonstrated the parallels we have been dealing with, touching on issues such as the point of view of interpretation and interpreters; messages and signage; how the same place can have different symbolic meanings and generate different memories for different people.

I found particularly compelling a part of the film about Drayton Hall’s African American descendants that parallels the post-Holocaust Jewish experience in Europe. People were filmed sitting in the African American cemetery at Drayton Hall, speaking about how many of the deceased buried there had no markers for their graves, no one to talk about their history. In Eastern Europe, when I visit an abandoned Jewish cemetery, I often ponder the fact that most of the thousands and thousands of people buried in these places are also forgotten, with no descendants to tend their graves or even remember who they were.

Drayton is not alone in trying to present a more inclusive past in the plantation context. Boone Hall has installed an extensive presentation on slavery and African American history centered on the nine preserved slave cabins there. Magnolia Gardens features special programs to bring to life its recently renovated row of cabins. And Middleton Place, which I have not yet visited, presents a permanent exhibit titled “Beyond the Fields” in a two-family tenant residence called Eliza’s House, in memory of Eliza Leach, a South Carolina African American born in 1891, and the last person to live in the building. The much less elaborate Hampton Plantation also incorporates the site’s slave history in well researched text panels, both in the Big House and along the path leading to it.

After the Drayton Hall panel, I was excited to visit McLeod Plantation with Mary Battle, public historian at the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, and her class. McLeod, which served as local headquarters of the Freedman’s Bureau following the Civil War, has the potential to interpret not only slave life but the postwar experience of the newly freed men and women. McLeod’s signage uses a phrase that could be the site’s “slogan”—describing it as a place of both “tragedy and transcendence.” I found it interesting that this formulation echoes what we sometimes call sites of Jewish heritage in Europe—“sites of tragedy and sites of triumph.”

Photos from the Marion Thompson Wright Lecture Series

On February 21, Drayton Hall President and Executive Director Dr. George W. McDaniel presented “Towards a More Complete History: Connecting Places and People by Engaging Descendants” at the highly acclaimed Marion Thompson Wright Lecture Series (MTW). McDaniel’s presentation featured a Q&A session with Drayton Hall descendants Rebecca Campbell and Catherine Braxton. The theme of this year’s series was Curating Black America: Celebrating the National Museum of African American History and Culture and Remembering Dr. Clement Alexander Price. Dr. McDaniel dedicated his speech at the National Preservation Conference’s Historic Sites Luncheon to his friend and colleague Dr. Price, who passed away last fall. Dr. Price had invited Drayton Hall to participate in the MTW lecture series. Leading scholars from around the country gathered at the MTW lecture series to discuss the role of cultural institutions in preserving and curating African American history. Fellow speakers included Lonnie Bunch, inaugural director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture and former Drayton Hall Site Advisory Council member; Bob Stanton, former director of the National Park Service; Spencer Crew, Robinson Professor of American, African American and Public History at George Mason University; and Taylor Branch, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian. In regards to Drayton Hall’s presentation, Assistant Professor of History and American Studies and Associate Director of the Clement A. Price Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience at Rutgers University-Newark Mark Krasovic said, “Drayton Hall exemplifies an ethic of inquiry and revision that [George, Catherine, and Rebecca] spoke to so beautifully. It was a master course in the relative variability of historical knowledge and the commitment to pursue the truth nonetheless.”

MTW Lecture

Deeply committed to history and historic preservation, Rebecca Campbell and Catherine Braxton shared their family’s history with the audience. According to their family’s oral history, their ancestors were brought from Barbados to the Carolina colony by the Draytons in the 1670s as enslaved people. From l-r: George McDaniel, Rebecca Campbell, and Catherine Braxton. Photo by Fred Stucker, courtesy of Curating Black America: the 35th annual Marion Thompson Wright Lecture Series, Rutgers University-Newark.

MTW Lecture by Fred Stucker

“Too often history seems to be taught as something far away, but with historic sites, history is up close and personal, its presence can be felt,” said George McDaniel in his presentation. “At historic sites, we can also try to make history real to people, to make them care, so they feel more connected to themselves and to the wider humanity we share with one another.” Photo by Fred Stucker, courtesy of Curating Black America: the 35th annual Marion Thompson Wright Lecture Series, Rutgers University-Newark.

MTW Lecture by Fred Stucker

“[George, Catherine, and Rebecca] provided such an in-depth exploration of southern plantation life at Drayton Hall that was riveting and remarkable for its personal ancestral perspectives by Rebecca and Catherine,” said Marisa Pierson, Senior Program Coordinator of the Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience at Rutgers University-Newark. “It was one of the most memorable presentations I have witnessed in all the years the institute has been mounting this prestigious program.” Shown above: Catherine Braxton. Photo by Fred Stucker, courtesy of Curating Black America: the 35th annual Marion Thompson Wright Lecture Series, Rutgers University-Newark.

MTW lecture, photo by Fred Stucker

Over 800 people attended the 35th Marion Thompson Wright Lecture Series at Rutgers University-Newark. Photo by Fred Stucker, courtesy of Curating Black America: the 35th annual Marion Thompson Wright Lecture Series, Rutgers University-Newark.

Rebecca Campbell, photo by Fred Stucker

Rebecca Campbell speaks to the audience about her family’s connection to Drayton Hall. Photo by Fred Stucker, courtesy of Curating Black America: the 35th annual Marion Thompson Wright Lecture Series, Rutgers University-Newark.

MTW Lecture by Fred Stucker

George McDaniel with fellow presenter Lonnie Bunch, inaugural director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture and former Drayton Hall Site Advisory Council member. Photo by Fred Stucker, courtesy of Curating Black America: the 35th annual Marion Thompson Wright Lecture Series, Rutgers University-Newark.

Lonnie Bunch, photograph by Fred Stucker

Lonnie Bunch was named the 2015 Marion Thompson Wright Lecturer. Photo by Fred Stucker, courtesy of Curating Black America: the 35th annual Marion Thompson Wright Lecture Series, Rutgers University-Newark, courtesy of Curating Black America: the 35th annual Marion Thompson Wright Lecture Series, Rutgers University-Newark.

Photo by Fred Stucker

From l-r: Mark Krasovic, Assistant Professor of History and American Studies and Associate Director of the Clement A Price Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience at Rutgers University-Newark; Lonnie Bunch; Thelma Golden, Director and Chief Curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem; Mary Sue Price; Nancy Cantor, Chancellor of Rutgers University–Newark; George McDaniel; and Robert Stanton, former director of the National Park Service. Photo by Fred Stucker, courtesy of Curating Black America: the 35th annual Marion Thompson Wright Lecture Series, Rutgers University-Newark.

Audience at MTW. Photo by Fred Stucker.

The audience applauds Drayton Hall’s presentation. Photo by Fred Stucker, courtesy of Curating Black America: the 35th annual Marion Thompson Wright Lecture Series, Rutgers University-Newark.

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From l-r: George McDaniel, Mary Sue McDaniel, Maria Bunch, and Lonnie Bunch.

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From l-r: Mary Sue McDaniel, Allison Rea, Catherine Braxton, Rebecca Campbell, Lonnie Bunch, Spencer Crew, Maria Bunch, and George McDaniel.

The goal of Drayton Hall’s presentation was to enrich the human connection to historic places, objects, and images of Drayton Hall by asking descendants to share their thoughts. Since these descendants did not grow up at Drayton hall, they do not have first-hand accounts, but the places, objects, and documents that were shown resonated deeply with them, and personal reflections connected with the audience, as shown by the photographs. This was the first time that descendants from a historic site had participated in the MTW lecture series, and the audience consisting of historians, museum professionals, and lay people, responded very positively.

UPDATE: A video of this presentation is now available online.

Connecting People and Places through Historic Sites

edited MTW Flyer

On February 21, Drayton Hall President and Executive Director Dr. George W. McDaniel will present “Towards a More Complete History: Connecting Places and People by Engaging Descendants” at the highly acclaimed Marion Thompson Wright (MTW) Lecture Series. The title of this year’s series is Curating Black America: Celebrating the National Museum of African American History and Culture and Remembering Dr. Clement Alexander Price. The 35th annual MTW lecture series will be presented from 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at Rutgers University-Newark. Fellow speakers include Lonnie Bunch, inaugural director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture and former Drayton Hall Site Advisory Council member; Bob Stanton, former director of the National Park Service; Spencer Crew, former director of the National Museum of American History; and Taylor Branch, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian.

McDaniel’s presentation examines how historic sites can make a difference in their communities. “Too often history seems to be taught as something far away, but with historic sites, history is present and personal,” McDaniel said. “By their very nature, history happened at historic sites, good and bad. That’s what makes them historic, so we must recognize our history in all its complexity and diversity, and use it to bring people from diverse backgrounds together and to learn from and share that history.” Historic sites are turning to descendants and engaging them in the documentation and preservation of their stories. In the past year, Drayton Hall has participated in two conference sessions that have brought descendants of the enslaved and of slaveholders together. The resulting combination of places and people, especially descendants, leads to a more complete history and to a more humane understanding of historic preservation.

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Pictured l-r: George McDaniel, Rebecca Campbell, and Catherine Braxton.

 

McDaniel’s presentation will feature a Q&A session with Drayton Hall descendants Rebecca Campbell and Catherine Braxton (pictured above). Sisters Rebecca and Catherine started researching their family’s connection to Drayton Hall with the assistance of their cousin, Richmond Bowens (1908-1998), who grew up at Drayton Hall and later became a gatekeeper and historian-in-residence. According to their family’s oral history, their ancestors were brought from Barbados to the Carolina colony by the Draytons in the 1670s as enslaved people. Deeply committed to history and historic preservation, Rebecca and Catherine will be sharing their family’s history and offering their perspective on why history matters.

The lecture series is dedicated in memory of Dr. Clement Price, the founder of the Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience who co-founded the MTW lecture series in 1981. Dr. Price was a Trustee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and a Friend of Drayton Hall. “Clem was a remarkable man and leaves a legacy for us to live up to,” McDaniel said.

 

Memories and Meanings: Drayton Hall Descendants to Present at Distinguished Speakers Series

The 2015 Drayton Hall Distinguished Speakers Series begins this month with an insightful presentation focused not so much on the place of Drayton Hall, but rather, its people. Please join us on Thursday, Feb. 19 for “Memories and Meanings: Reflections on Drayton Hall by Charles H. Drayton, III, and Other Descendants.” An interactive panel discussion will feature descendants of those who once lived at Drayton Hall, and reflect upon the significance of preserving the past at one of Charleston’s most historic sites. The discussion will bring together eight descendants to answer thoughtful questions and prompt audience participation, all moderated by Dr. George W. McDaniel, president and executive director of the Drayton Hall Preservation Trust.

Charles Henry Drayton III will be sharing his family’s memories of Drayton Hall at the upcoming speakers series.

This session will give the audience the rare opportunity to discuss perennial questions about Drayton Hall, family history, and the importance of preservation with Drayton Hall descendants. Questions such as the following: What prompted Charles and Frank Drayton to sell Drayton Hall to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the State of South Carolina in 1974? What are Charles Drayton’s present thoughts about that decision? What are the thoughts of other descendants, both from the Drayton family and from the African American community whose ancestors had also lived there for generations?

Charles “Charlie” H. Drayton III, now 96 years old and one of the last private owners of Drayton Hall, will be reflecting on his family’s decision to sell the house in 1974.  His nephew, Frank B. Drayton, Jr., who serves on the Drayton Hall Board of Trustees, will also offer perspective.  Other Drayton participants include three of Charlie’s grandchildren: Charles Heyward Drayton, Greg Osteen Joseph, and Shelby Nelson.

Rebecca Campbell, Catherine Braxton, and Annie Meyers, descendants of the Bowens family, will also participate in the panel discussion. According to their family’s oral history, their ancestors were brought from Barbados to the Carolina colony by the Draytons in the 1670s as enslaved people. Braxton also serves as a member of the Drayton Hall Preservation Trust Board of Trustees.

“Our advice to people interested in learning about their family’s past is to first commit to family, learn their roots, ask questions of their elders, and become engaged with their communities to promote and preserve their history,” said Rebecca Campbell. “We think that it is important to preserve one’s family history because much can be learned to assist in moving forward to bridge the divide between the ancestors and descendants of the enslaved and the slaveholders.”

This enhancement of Drayton Hall’s historic fabric is only made possible by the enthusiastic participation of its descendants. The descendants presented together at the National Preservation Conference last November and the South Carolina Historic Preservation Conference in April. “I am personally thrilled to be a part of a movement like this that seems so far overdue, and I am motivated to continue to participate in discussions like this so that we can spread the concept to other historic sites where the shared histories of English and African descendants have remained separate,” said Charles Heyward Drayton.

These oral histories further advance our understanding of the history of Drayton Hall, by combining myriad vantage points in one place. “The point is that we preserve historic buildings and places, to be sure, but the power of those places is enriched all the more by the stories and memories, good and bad,” said McDaniel. “At the same time, those stories and memories are given a reality by the preservation of place that they might not have in the abstract. History happened there.”

“Memories and Meanings” will very much be a forward step in the continuation of bridging the interpretation of Drayton Hall’s complex history. There will be ample opportunity for the audience to ask questions and to hear more memories and reflections the descendants have and what preservation means to them.

2015-Distinguished-Speakers-Series-Flyer-for-web

The Drayton Hall Distinguished Speakers Series is held on Thursday nights at South Carolina Society Hall, 72 Meeting Street. Doors open at 5:30 pm with a wine and cheese reception, with presentations starting promptly at 6:30 pm. Presented by the Friends of Drayton Hall, admission is free and no advance reservations are necessary. Seating is limited. The 2015 Distinguished Speakers Series is sponsored by Richard and Jill Almeida, the Francis Marion Hotel, and the Chipstone Foundation. For other questions and sponsorship inquiries please contact Tara White, development events coordinator, at 843-769-2627 or twhite@draytonhall.org.