An Open Letter to the Alabama Historical Commission & The Directors of Belle Mont Mansion

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:


Contact: Camille Bennett Email:Saysomething8888@gmail.com

Telephone: (256) 415-0104




An Open Letter to the Alabama Historical Commission and the Directors of Belle Mont Mansion,


Who: Project Say Something, Pastor Wesley Thompson, Standing In Power, Equality Shoals, Beyond the Women’s March, Shoals Area Young Democrat’s.

Why: Sunday 12/8/19 The Belle Mont Mansion and the Alabama Historical Commission hosted “A Plantation Christmas.”



The celebration represents a willful ignorance of the experience of enslaved people and a concocted memory of a joyous, white supremacist Christmas celebration. In the body of our open letter, we request a public apology and corrective actions that will ensure the historical accuracy of future tours and events at The Belle Mont Mansion. (See below) .

 

An Open Letter to the Alabama Historical Commission and the Directors of Belle Mont Mansion The recent event, “A Plantation Christmas,” held on Sunday, December 8th at Belle Mont Mansion is troubling because of the event’s interpretation and remembrance of our shared past. We hope you take into account our concerns and please know that our aim is ultimately to improve our collective interpretation and understanding of our history.


  • Belle Mont Mansion was constructed using forced labor beginning in 1828. Dr. William Mitchell enslaved roughly 115 people at the property. Most of the enslaved people labored on Mitchell’s property in Virginia before being forced to move to Alabama.

  • Isaac Winston purchased the property in 1833. By 1855, Winston owned 119 enslaved people who labored on his 1400-acre property. The farm was valued at $40,000—over $1.1 million in today’s currency. The Winstons, like the Mitchells and countless others, became incredibly wealthy from plantation slavery.

  • Christmas on the plantation would likely have been a time of extreme uncertainty for the enslaved population, who mostly lived in 13 wooden shacks. While the holidays brought a brief respite from work, many enslaved people took the opportunity to escape the bondage of the plantation. Others feared the upcoming slave auctions commonly held in January and February in north Alabama as well as upcoming contracts for slave labor that was “hired out.”

In addition, any “celebration” of Christmas for white enslavers required further labor from an enslaved workforce to make the event possible. The celebration of a “Plantation Christmas” is therefore historically inaccurate. Belle Mont was built by and powered by enslaved labor. The enslavers were served by enslaved people. The wealth generated for the benefit of the antebellum families was at the expense of enslaved people. None of this is represented in the depiction of a “Plantation Christmas.”


The celebration of a “Plantation Christmas” is racist. The antebellum plantation experience, as lived by the enslaved, was neither happy nor joyous; indeed, it was brutal and terrifying. This celebration clearly ignores the perspective of those who experienced Belle Mont as a forced labor camp. For enslaved workers, that is what Belle Mont was.


The celebration of a “Plantation Christmas” represents a willful ignorance of the experience of enslaved people and a concocted memory of a joyous, white supremacist Christmas celebration. It is unacceptable to continue to celebrate white supremacy. It is unacceptable to subject the descendants of enslaved African Americans to whitewashed versions of history that ignore their ancestors’ experience. Our historical sites must be honest. They must reconcile the brutality of the past with an understanding of the present. Plantation houses must be more than monuments to white supremacy. We must be able to hold our society accountable for the past in order to learn anything from it. Events like a “Plantation Christmas” are not educational. They deliberately obscure our understanding of the past. The deliberate obfuscation of the past enables the continuation of white nationalism and racial bigotry.


In addition to requesting that you no longer hold historically inaccurate tours and events that continue to deny the brutality of the past, we are requesting a public apology that addresses the historical inaccuracy and white supremacy that has made this event possible year after year.


In Solidarity,

Project Say Something

Pastor Wesley Thompson

Standing in Power (Decatur, AL)

Shoals Young Democrats

Equality Shoals

Beyond the Women’s March

115 views0 comments