Saturday, March 12, 2011

Houston When Will You Remember?

About a year ago there was an article in the Houston paper talking about how downtown Market Square was going to be renovated.  Part of this project was to highlight Houston's Nineteenth Century history.  One thing it seems the planners forgot was that Market Square was also the location of a slave market.  The same for downtown Galveston...

Even our famous Sugar Land, where before the Civil War there were more slaves than almost anywhere else in City Hall there is a yellow brick road leading from a fountain that symbolizes the Brazos River to the steps of the city's main administrative building.  Very little is mentioned of the 150 slaves that build up the sugar refinery in the Terry Plantation that was in its zenith in 1861.

Thank goodness somebody is thinking about these things - in Charleston, South Carolina....


Emancipating History

 CHARLESTON, S.C. — Here, in this lovely town, once one of the most prosperous in the American colonies, there is no escape.

In the Old Slave Mart Museum that opened in 2007, you read: “You’re standing in the actual showroom, the place where traders sold — and buyers bought — American blacks who were born into slavery.”

Or go to Drayton Hall, a local plantation hewn out of the Low Country landscape by hundreds of slaves, who also made its rice fields so profitable. At a clearing in the woods near the entrance, you see an information panel and a memorial arch: this was a “burying ground,” used at least as early as the 1790s, where the plantation’s slaves buried their dead.

Or drive to Boone Hall, another local plantation, which you approach through an avenue of moss-draped ancient oaks that leads visitors to the main house: you see a row of rare brick slave dwellings, placed so no visitor could have missed the immense wealth in human chattel. At one time, these one-room homes were joined by others on each side of the road, creating corridors of the enslaved, ushering guests to the master’s domain.

Or walk into the almost Italianate backyard of the Aiken-Rhett House in town, in which William Aiken Jr., who served as South Carolina’s governor, lived in the mid-19th century. Listen to the audio tour explaining that this was a work yard, and that such yards “were part of every town house in Charleston in the first half of the 19th century and were the domain of slaves.”

The house, together with the yards, we learn, “is referred to as an urban plantation.” And though Aiken was, by all accounts, an enlightened master (and an opponent of South Carolina’s secession), he was also the third-largest slaveholder in South Carolina.

Slavery and its heritage are everywhere here. Charleston was one of the main colonial ports of the 18th century, dealing in rice, indigo and slaves. In 1860 South Carolina held as many slaves as Georgia and Virginia, which were at least twice its size. The genteel grace and European travels of its wealthy citizens were made possible by the enslavement of about half the population...more       


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