Slave Dwelling Project Commemorates Black History Month at Old Alabama Town

By on 12 February, 2015 in Carole King, Historic Midtown with 2 Comments
Joseph McGill of the Slave Dwelling Project writes his thoughts during one of his sleep-overs in a slave dwelling.

Joseph McGill of the Slave Dwelling Project writes his thoughts during one of his sleep-overs in a slave dwelling.

The Slave Dwelling Project is coming to Old Alabama Town to observe Black History Month and to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights March. On Sunday, March 1, Joseph McGill will present the Slave Dwelling Project at the Old Alabama Town Reception Center. McGill is a history consultant and the founder of The Slave Dwelling Project, Inc., whose mission is to identify and assist property owners, government agencies and organizations to preserve extant slave dwellings. He actually sleeps in extant slave dwellings bringing much needed attention to these often neglected historic structures that are so vitally important to telling the stories of those who were once enslaved.

“Choosing the project’s name, the Slave Dwelling Project, was quite deliberate because slavery has been a subject matter that we as a nation have been dancing around for far too long,” says Joseph McGill, who has been conducting the project for four years. He has tried to alleviate the stigma of being associated with an organization that has some variation of the word slave in its title. Some still get offended when asked to associate or interact with the organization and he hopes to remedy that.

This past year at the First Annual Slave Dwelling Project Conference participants got to find out the answer to the question: What’s the big deal about someone spending nights in slave cabins? A generous donation from the 1772 Foundation allowed the Project to assemble scholars, artists, property stewards, and preservationists in Savannah, GA, to contemplate that question. The Conference was a huge success and plans are now underway for the Second Annual Slave Dwelling Project Conference which will be held in Charleston, South Carolina.

Several years ago when Joseph was just starting the Project, he inquired at Old Alabama Town about sleeping in the antebellum Slave Quarters of the Ordeman House complex. Because the building is maintained as house museums, spending the night there was like the “five star” of slave dwellings. On that same trip to Montgomery, he also experienced the other end of the spectrum with an overnight stay in the remnants of outbuildings on Riverview Plantation near Hunter Station.

Since that time he has spent the night in slave dwellings in Connecticut, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. Joseph tries to maximize his time at each site when he travels by sharing his experiences which he will be doing on March 1 in Montgomery. In Madison, North Carolina, Joseph was able to interact at the historic McCollum Farm with the descendants of enslavers and the descendants of the enslaved on the property where the enslavement occurred.

Although he usually sleeps in structures composed of at least four walls and a roof, in 2014 he attempted to spend the night in the tabby ruins at Haig Point on Daufuskie Island, S.C. but his attempt was thwarted by heavy winds and rains.

One of Joseph’s biggest challenges for the Slave Dwelling Project has been convincing some that slavery existed in northern states. This year he also spent a night at the Royall House and Slave Quarters in Medford, Massachusetts, a northern state that did not abolish slavery until 1783.

After the Slave Dwelling Project presentation at Old Alabama Town, Joseph will once again be spending the night in the Ordeman House Slave Quarters joined by students from Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers. The students are members of the university’s Black Student Alliance and No Race/No Hate campus organizations.

During this important time of reflection on Montgomery’s long rich history, the Slave Dwelling Project hopes to bring historians, students, faculty, writers, legislators, organizations, corporations, artists and the general public together to educate, collaborate and organize resources to appreciate and save these important architectural pieces of our American history. You can follow Joseph’s experiences at www.slavedwellingproject.org.

The Slave Dwelling Project presentation by Joseph McGill is open to the public on Sunday afternoon, March 1 at 2 p.m. in the Old Alabama Town Reception. For more information, call 334-240-4512 or visit www.oldalabamatown.com.

Carole King (not the singer, just the hummer) enjoys midtown living from South Capitol Parkway in Capitol Heights where she has lived for 25+years. Carole has been the historic properties curator for the Landmarks Foundation that manages Old Alabama Town for 28 years and is passionate about neighborhoods, their architectural character, their people, and their preservation!

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  1. Heather says:

    I think that we are finally beginning to realize how important that it is to preserve all of our history– not just the good parts. Slavery and civil rights are no longer just an embarrassing part of our past, but instead a significant and meaningful part of our history. In recent years Montgomery has finally started to celebrate significant civil rights events, people and places. I can’t wait to see what the Selma to Montgomery march brings. Maybe also OAT can look into adding a more typical slave dwelling to their buildings.

  2. Jacquelyn RATLIFF says:

    I so enjoyed learning of this, my grandfather and grandmother have roots in both places Montgomery and Birmingham Alabama . I thank you for this article as I am just learning how to do genealogy and found it very interesting. Wish I could afford to see some of these places

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