The Slave Dwelling Project Pushes History of Slave Rebellions to the PublicHistorians in the News
tags: slavery, African American history, slave revolts, public history, teaching history
CHARLESTON, S.C. — As the campaign to quash the teachings of America’s brutal history of slavery intensifies, Joseph McGill Jr. has waged a counterattack by way of a poignant three-day conference in this antebellum port town that was once responsible for the most sales and transports of enslaved Africans to major cities in the U.S.
A contained glee emanated from McGill, a historian and the founder of the Slave Dwelling Project, which kicked off its seventh annual conference last week with a focus on the 1739 Stono Rebellion, an uprising of enslaved people who killed plantation owners and their families in South Carolina to free themselves.
“We’re at a place right now of rebellion and resistance in America, just as enslaved Africans were,” McGill said of the Stono revolt, which has been referred to as the largest slave rebellion in the British colonies. Those enslaved hoped to find their freedom in the Spanish-occupied territory of St. Augustine, Florida.
Peter H. Wood, a former history professor at Duke University who wrote “Black Majority,” one of the first books to discuss the complex history of enslaved people in the South, said: “For political reasons, the Spaniards were willing to offer freedom to those who escaped.
“So a group of 15 or 20 went from plantation to plantation,” he said, explaining how the small collection grew as it marched on, chanting “Liberty” along the way. Later in the day, the freedom-seekers were encircled by a state militia and slaughtered.
But their fight and willingness to risk their lives helped to inspire other enslaved uprisings over the next two years in the South and later the 13-year revolution in Haiti against the colonizing French that ended with Haiti’s winning its independence in 1804.
“This is the history that must be shared,” said McGill, who has long worked in this area. In 2010, he launched the Slave Dwelling Project, which preserves the former homes of the enslaved and offers a deep history about the living conditions they endured.
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