The Historic Latta Plantation Controversy Reminds Us What Juneteenth Can Teach Us
After more than a century and a half of underappreciation, the emancipation celebration known as Juneteenth is bringing out the regional differences in various ways, some of which make me wonder whether the Civil War really ended in 1865 — and if so, who won.
“Juneteenth,” also called Freedom Day and Emancipation Day, among other names, marks June 19, 1865, the day that Union troops in Galveston, Texas, notified enslaved African Americans that the Civil War was over and slavery was abolished — two years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
In Illinois, where state license plates constantly remind us it is the “Land of Lincoln,” the General Assembly has passed not just one bill but two to make Juneteenth a state holiday. One would take effect next year, the other immediately, depending on which one Gov. J. B. Pritzker signs.
Both bills were sponsored in the House by Rep. La Shawn Ford, a Chicago Democrat, after years of trying. Until now, he told the Chicago Tribune, ”there just wasn’t an appetite.” But in the past year of racial reckoning, the measure passed both houses of the state General Assembly without opposition. Twice.
The ease with which Illinois embraced Juneteenth contrasts sharply with the dust-up at Historic Latta Plantation. The “living history museum” just north of Charlotte, N.C., canceled but refused to apologize for a Juneteenth event that unintentionally ruffled more feathers than a fox in a henhouse.
At issue was the wording of an online announcement, since deleted, of a planned event at the old former plantation that sounded like the real tragedy of the Civil War was what it did to genteel white plantation life.
Come, it invited, to share stories of “former bondsmen,” an old euphemism for slaves. “White refugees have been displaced,” it said, “and have a story to tell as well.”
Visitors would hear from defeated Confederate soldiers and from “the massa himself who is now living in the woods” and on the run from the Yankees, his home taken over by the people he used to own, the announcement said.
The announcement gave a remarkably sympathetic-sounding description of the “overseer” — “now out of a job” — and asked, “What will he do now that he has no one to oversee from can see to can’t see?” an old Southern description of working in the fields from pre-dawn to after dark.
Online outrage from the community, Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles and Mecklenburg County leaders against the apparent whitewashing of Southern plantation history hit the project like a Carolina coastal hurricane.