Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation

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Here are a few more old scanned photos from the Georgia coast, this time of the Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation, a state park near the small coastal city of Brunswick. This area was once a rice plantation, cut into a coastal salt marsh, and prior to the Civil War it operated on slave labor. I've read was one of the harshest slavery-based industries, largely due to disease and working conditions. The rice fields have long since gone back to salt marsh, but the (relatively modest) plantation house survives. The state delicately mentions that the plantation declined after the Civil War; apparently the economic model didn't pencil out so well without slave labor.

These photos are from the mid-1990s, during the brief "New South" era, back when the media kept telling us the South had finally gotten over its ugly past and was ready to join the 20th Century. We were just there to look at the salt marsh and didn't visit the house, but the exhibits we saw tried to play up the environmental education angle, and avoided talking about how the work got done, if they could avoid it. The only good thing I can say about denial, in this case, is that it probably replaced something else that was worse. I assume there would have been the usual cliches about how happy the slaves were, how benevolent the owners were, and how it was all one big happy Gone With the Wind antebellum family, full of cotillions and hoop skirts and genteel high society doings and whatever. This was almost 20 years ago and there's been a lot of backsliding since then; I'm still not sure they're ready to join the 20th Century. Under the current political climate, I suspect the signage will revert to the themes of the bad old days sooner or later, since there's a huge market -- ok, a huge Caucasian market -- for misty-eyed Old South nostalgia.

As far as I'm concerned, there's only one right way to deal with old plantation houses in the 21st Century. You bulldoze them -- yes, even the historic, extra-genteel ones; especially those ones -- and put up memorials to the victims of slavery and segregation, and you make sure every school kid in the region sees at least one memorial on a field trip, and you don't sugar coat it. You take away the space for people to wax nostalgic about those days, you make sure that isn't a respectable opinion anymore, and you try to prevent the bad old days from returning.

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