PublicHistoryPreCirculatedMultiSession Politics of Memory: Making Slavery Visible in the Public Space, Part 2: Memory, Slavery, and Tourism

AHA Session 72
Friday, January 7, 2011: 9:30 AM-11:30 AM
Room 310 (Hynes Convention Center)
Jeffrey A. Fortin, State University of New York College at Oneonta
Mitch Kachun, Western Michigan University

Session Abstract

With the new visibility of slavery in the North America public space, historical sites, monuments and museums in connection with North American slave past became places of tourism interest. Discussing the recent inclusion of slavery in North American public landscape, the four papers reconstruct the debates on the contested public memories of slavery, and racial relations. By examining various case studies, the papers discuss how the memory of slavery was integrated in the public spaces of U.S. South and Bermuda. Kytle's paper examines the reception of the Benchy of the Road, a memorial dedicated to the victims of slavery built in Charleston in 2008. Swan's paper examines the the 2009 political debates that followed the project and the construction of the monument in honor of Sally Bassett, an enslaved woman who after allegedly poisoned her masters, was burned alive in 1730. The monument—intended to be part of a cultural tourism project named  Bermuda’s African Diaspora Heritage Trial—shows that the public discussion and representation of slavery in Bermuda is contested space, by raising questions about who are the social actors having the power to define the narrative of slavery, and how those definitions reflect current issues of race, racism and colonialism. Roberts' paper shows that despite the recent initiatives, slavery tourism in Charleston is also controversial. Still today, tourists can visit former plantations that celebrate Old South grandeur, where references to enslaved men and women are evacuated. However, African American tour companies are contesting these white narratives by developing tours where the slave past marked by oppression and resistance is for the first time emphasized. Here again, the collective memory of slavery and its uses in the tourism industry reflect the political struggle of social actors who aim to occupy the public space. By studying the case of the Old Slave Mart Museum (OSMM) in Charleston, South Carolina, Yuhl's paper sheds light on the internal slave trade, a neglected aspect of the history of U.S. slavery. The history of OSMM reveals the conflictual and changing relationship between race and memory in the making of pubic history.