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Historic Latta Plantation refused to apologize Saturday for a controversial program whose racist Juneteenth event description promised to tell the story of “white refugees” and defeated Confederate soldiers.
In a lengthy post on the website of the living history museum near Charlotte, site manager Ian Campbell, who is Black, called out Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles and other critics of the event. The program was abruptly canceled Friday following the backlash to the event and its promotion.
At issue was the plantation’s online and social media promotion for the $25 event, called “Kingdom Coming,” which was set to take place next Saturday, on Juneteenth. The holiday commemorates the emancipation of slaves in the United States.
But the description didn’t acknowledge the significance of June 19th. It was sympathetic to those who owned slaves in the wake of emancipation, and inaccurately minimized an unnamed slaveowner to an “overseer” and referred to him as “massa.”
The post also referred to “freedmen” but did not include that Black people were enslaved in the United States for nearly 250 years. Instead, the museum’s site referred to slaves as “former bondsmen.”
Campbell said he created the Kingdom Coming event and took “full responsibility” for it. He said the Confederacy, white supremacy, overseers, plantation owners and white refugees will never be glorified.
“To the masses on social media and politicians, no apology will be given for bringing a unique program to educate the public about former slaves becoming FREE!” Campbell wrote.
“My job will be to continue to educate,” Campbell 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.”
About the event
The event’s description started with lines from “Sweet chariot,” a mournful slave spiritual some scholars say is aligned with the Underground Railroad.
The plantation’s description said attendees would hear from a slaveowner who had been chased out of his house by “Yankees,” and his former slaves, who were now “living high on the hog,” a reference to better cuts of meat, which white slaveowners deprived Black people from having.
“White refugees have been displaced and have a story to tell as well,” it read. “Confederate soldiers who will be heading home express their feelings about the downfall of the Confederacy.”
The post ultimately was taken down Friday following the criticism.
Criticism of the event, criticism of the mayor
After the event was posted on the plantation’s Facebook page, a number of commenters criticized the plantation, calling the Juneteenth event “absolutely disgusting” and “unbelievable.”
Local governments and officials also weighed in.
In a statement Friday afternoon, Mecklenburg County government said it “has zero tolerance for programs that do not embrace equity and diversity.” Because of the “Kingdom Coming” event, the county said it is “looking at its contract with the facility vendor regarding future programming.”
Mayor Lyles tweeted Friday: “We should not support any business or organization that does not respect equality, history, and the truth of the African-American people’s journey to freedom.
“Despite intent, words matter,” Lyles said. “And the Historic Latta Plantation should know better.”
Juneteenth, she said, “should be celebrated and honored in the most humble way possible, with laser focus on the perspective of the inhumane treatment of an enslaved people.”
And the town of Huntersville tweeted that it was withholding its annual contribution to the center “pending further investigations into the facts surrounding this program.”
Campbell said it was only after “the social media frenzy that Latta received numerous emails and phone calls about the event,” which was canceled over “security concerns” for staff and volunteers.
He said Lyles also called him. But, he wrote, that for as long as he has been with the plantation, “I have never seen Vi Lyles, the Mayor of the great city of Charlotte visit our site or any other influential and prominent government officials. The same applies to NPR, WBTV, the Charlotte Observer et al.”
Campbell wrote that many people had complained about Historic Latta not doing anything for Juneteenth.
“Then when I create a unique event to highlight our successful struggle out of slavery, there is backlash from many who have never visited our historical site,” he stated. “(Union General) William T. Sherman had a dislike for the media of his day. I understand what he may have been going through.”