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The Historic Latta Plantation Controversy Reminds Us What Juneteenth Can Teach Us

Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

Latta Plantation is on land owned by Mecklenburg County, but the property and its programming are run by an independent nonprofit group. County officials and the town of Huntersville, where it is located, said they would review the group’s funding in the wake of the incident.

But, before you jump to any more conclusions, let me point out that the plantation’s site manager, Ian Campbell, is “an American man of African descent,” as he puts it in a lengthy online response to the controversy.

“To the masses on social media and politicians,” he said in the online statement instead of granting interviews, “no apology will be given for bringing a unique program to educate the public about former slaves becoming FREE!

“My job will be to continue to educate,” he said. “Historic Latta Plantation’s narrative will be to give a voice to our ancestors enslaved and as freedmen who were denied a voice. We will speak for them in a compassionate, accurate and sensitive manner.”

Good. Campbell’s earlier invitation sounds like an ill-fated effort to reach out to history buffs in language that wouldn’t offend the spirit of the “Lost Cause,” a pro-Dixie movement that has been revising Civil War history since Reconstruction — or as “Lost Cause” believers prefer to call the postwar period, “Redemption.”

I sympathize with the job he has to do, walking the tightrope between reality and history as it is viewed by those who think the romanticized plantation life of “Gone with the Wind” or “Birth of a Nation” told the true story.

 

Unfortunately, polls show a disappointingly poor knowledge of the war and postwar period that still sends echoes and earthquakes through our racial and political scene today.

That’s a tragedy. Campbell is right that education is the answer. After all, disputes about our racial past are really about shaping our political future.

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(E-mail Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.)

©2021 Clarence Page. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

(c) 2021 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
 

 

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