Troublesome Charleston news

My friend Kevin Levin at Civil War Memory reports on his recent trip to Charleston. His tour guide was displaying some obvious dislike of Northerners and obvious inability to understand the positions of enslaved laborers. You can read the post here.

The problem with creating a tour where people are solely asked to identify with being a slaveholder looking to buy another person is that it does not create any sympathy, empathy or general understanding with the life of slaves who were kept in pens and put on display for men to gawk, grope, fondle, feel, and question men, women, and children sold in Charleston (among many other places).

This tour guide sounds like he is unfamiliar with the works of Walter Johnson’s  Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market, Maurie D. McInnis’ Slaves Waiting for Sale: Abolitionist Art and the American Slave Trade, and Michael Tadman’s Speculators and Slaves: Masters, Traders, and Slaves in the Old South. 

The tour guide appears to have missed the surviving information regarding Ziba Oakes’ account book. Oakes had the building known now as “The Old Slave Mart Museum” constructed in 1859. While there appears to be records only surviving from prior to 1859 at the Boston Public Library, there still is enough information to discuss antebellum Charleston’s slave trade and this specific trader.

I hope that this is not a sign of what is going on in Charleston generally for as usual, we owe it to the historical record and to the memory of those people sold and those people who bought to be honest about what happened to and with the people involved in slavery.

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One response to “Troublesome Charleston news

  1. Em, I wonder how old the tour guide was. I find folks who tend to want to gloss over the unpleasantness of slavery and focus on the “romance” of the period tend to be older whereas younger guides have a tendency to be more balanced in their interpretation. Frequently people’s early experiences regretfully still prevent some people from giving unbiased interpretations. Not as an excuse but as a way of explanation. Did Kevin give you any indication about the guide’s background? Also the obvious negative comments about Northerners isn’t smart especially if this is a commercial tour company as you shouldn’t piss off your present and future customers by ragging on their geographic origin! Again, I think it reflects on the person’s early upbringing and attitudes learned as a child about “yankees”. Interpretation can be dicey but if done in an even fashion where both sides of the coin are interpreted, it can be done successfully without alienating the public regardless of their background.

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