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  • "Return and Get It"Developing McLeod Plantation as a Shared Space of Historical Memory
  • Brian Graves (bio)

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At first glance, the site appears to have the usual trappings of other plantation tourist destinations in the region: a Spanish moss–draped oak alley leading to the antebellum "big house," guided tours that wind through a rustic landscape dotted with plantation outbuildings, interpretive signs, and a gift shop. Photograph courtesy of the author.

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 On April 25th, 2015, the Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission (ccprc) officially opened the McLeod Plantation Historic Site (mphs) on James Island, South Carolina. At first glance, the site appears to have the usual trappings of other plantation tourist destinations in the region: a Spanish moss–draped oak alley leading to the antebellum "big house," guided tours that wind through a rustic landscape dotted with plantation outbuildings, interpretive signs, and a gift shop. Yet there is an important distinction between McLeod and its contemporaries: under the ownership and management of the ccprc, McLeod has become the first public plantation site in the Charleston region that is primarily dedicated to preserving and interpreting African American history. Within its public history program, "The Transition to Freedom," the ccPrc offers guided African American history tours along an interpretive pathway that includes exhibits at the plantation's six slave cabins, a large cemetery, gin house, barn, kitchen, dairy, and "main house," as well as a mobile tour application through which visitors can access an interactive self-guided tour of the site. To explain the ccprc's larger purpose for preserving and interpreting McLeod, the mobile app's introduction depicts the Sankofa, a West African symbol that signifies "return and get it," and states:

For many, [Sankofa] symbolizes the importance of remembering the past to understand the present with the hope of shaping a better future. To understand how the enslaved and their descendants transitioned to freedom while here and how the McLeods redefined themselves in a changing world is to glimpse powerful forces that continue to influence us. Beginning at the Welcome Center, explore this place set aside for remembrance through the words and images of those who came before. Discover how McLeod Plantation of years past helped to shape who we are today.1

As a person who was raised on James Island and embedded in its racial history and politics, I am intrigued by the ccprc's potentially groundbreaking public mission to "return and get it" in the spirit of the Sankofa, particularly within a regional tourism industry that has only recently begun to acknowledge—let alone focus primarily on interpreting—African American history at public plantation sites. Nevertheless, as I clicked through the app's introduction on my mobile phone, I had a measure of skepticism about the ccprc's general assertions that the site could allow visitors to "glimpse the powerful forces that continue to influence us" and "discover how McLeod Plantation of years past helped shape who we are today." The words sounded auspicious, yet I wanted to understand more about how they are grounded in the concrete particulars of the site's historical interpretation.

How might the mphs fulfill its Sankofa-inspired mission while also navigating [End Page 76]


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Within its public history program "The Transition to Freedom," the CCPRC offers guided African American history tours along an interpretive pathway that includes exhibits at the plantation's six slave cabins, a large cemetery, gin house [here], barn, kitchen, dairy, and "main house." Photograph courtesy of the McLeod Plantation Historic Site.

potentially difficult political and economic challenges of presenting a frank assessment of slavery and its aftermath to the traveling public? For example, does the site's commercialization for the sake of financial solvency, including the products of the gift shop, the pressure to host weddings and other events at the "big house," and the popular desire for "edutainment," in some ways compromise, belie, or distract from the ccprc's public mission? In addition, what sense of ownership and involvement, if any, might African American descendants have at a "public" site that was primarily built and inhabited by their...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 75-96
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-20
Open Access
No
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