A major grant from the South Carolina Humanities will allow the Slave Dwelling Project to implement a new program titled: Inalienable Rights: Living History Through the Eyes of the Enslaved. The $8,000 grant will allow the project to assemble living historians who will conduct programs at four sites in South Carolina. The living historians from Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia and South Carolina will don period clothing resembling those of the formerly enslaved and conduct outdoor cooking demonstrations, blacksmithing, brick making and quilting. These demonstrations will be interspersed with storytelling and lectures pertaining to the chattel slavery that persisted in this nation. One requirement for the grant is that each site have extant slave dwellings, therefore the programs will include a sleepover in the dwellings by the living historians and be conducted at these four sites in South Carolina: Lexington County Museum on Sunday, May 1; Magnolia Plantation and Gardens in Charleston on Saturday, May 21; the dates for Roper Mountain in Greenville and Hopsewee Plantation in Georgetown County have yet to be determined.
Inalienable Rights: Living History Through the Eyes of the Enslaved is a continued effort by the Slave Dwelling Project to help change the narrative which in the case of antebellum history tends to curate silence. That silence has relegated the history of the enslaved to the back pages of history or footnote status. It is the legacy of that peculiar institution that we are still living with today.
Great progress is being made as more sites are beginning to stray from their comfort zones and are now interpreting the lives of the enslaved. The four sites chosen have already shown a commitment to interpreting slavery by virtue of them having restored their slave cabin(s). In the six years that the Slave Dwelling Project has been in existence and interacting with many sites around the nation that contain extant slave dwellings, it has discovered that most sites do not possess a racially diverse staff that is capable of delivering what this recently funded program will offer.
When we examine the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, we can easily extract from them catch phrases or song bites such as “unalienable rights” or “we the people.” The irony of the matter is that President Thomas Jefferson and President James Madison who were so instrumental in creating these documents, were two of our twelve slave owning presidents. This is an indication that this nation was deeply involved in the institution of slavery, yet the historical narrative and the buildings that we choose to preserve and interpret may lead one to think otherwise.
The South Carolina Humanities grant will be partially matched by a $5,000 grant from the Magnolia Plantation and Gardens Foundation and $1,000 grant from Coastal Community Foundation’s Lowcountry Unity Fund. The Lowcountry Unity Fund was created in response to the violent massacre at Emanuel A.M.E. Church with the purpose to promote long-term solutions that address systematic issues contributing to racism and to economic inequality affecting African American communities.
Although the South Carolina Humanities grant is relegated to the four sites in South Carolina, the program could be made available to other sites in northern and southern states with extant slave dwellings.
The mission of South Carolina Humanities is to enrich the cultural and intellectual lives of all South Carolinians. This not-for-profit organization presents and/or supports literary initiatives, lectures, exhibits, festivals, publications, oral history projects, videos and other humanities-based experiences that reach more than 250,000 citizens annually. South Carolina Humanities receives funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities as well as corporate, foundation and individual donors. It is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors comprised of community leaders from throughout the state.