The Christian Science Monitor

Plantation tours bypass the ‘big house’ to focus on the enslaved

Kyera Singleton, director of Royall House and Slave Quarters, poses by the slave quarters, in Medford, Massachusetts, on Jan. 13, 2021. Ms. Singleton is working to expand the site’s role in present-day social justice movements. Source: Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

Beside the long path to the Wappoo Creek stand symmetrical rows of Southern live oaks, arranged like the pillars of a temple. Down the dirt road below, shaded by the leaves and long beards of Spanish moss, Toby Smith leads her first tour of the morning to the Wappoo’s marshy banks. Then she asks them to look right. 

Miles away, past mud flats, fishing boats, and the Ashley River, sits Charleston, South Carolina. If they drifted on the water for about an hour, they’d hit the city harbor. If they floated past for another three months, she says, they’d arrive on the West Coast of Africa. 

That’s how Ms. Smith says she starts her tours of McLeod Plantation Historic Site, where she’s worked as a guide for the past two years. Her trip to the milky green waters of the Wappoo Creek is a regular pilgrimage, designed to help visitors imagine the journey of enslaved Africans who once stood on the same land. Starting near the water, she says, lets the tour walk in their footsteps. 

For the next hour, Ms. Smith explains in a phone interview, she guides her group through the plantation grounds and lets them ask questions about its 37 acres. They pass the cramped slave quarters and palatial manor house. They pause at the slave cemetery and walk into the fields of sea island cotton, still growing. Inside

“Basically we’ve been miseducated” Bypassing the “big house”Seeing today through the lens of yesterdayCorrecting the recordPiecing together the lives of enslaved peopleInterrupting the cycle of history

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