As we set off for our visit to Boone Hall Plantation outside of Charleston this week, there was an inner conflict on what to expect. On the one hand, we were both dreaming about the gorgeous Oak-tree filled grounds of the plantation where The Notebook and North and South were filmed. We imagined life on the plantation, sitting on the front porch of the grand house drinking ice tea or lemonade, gossiping about neighboring landowners and cooled by the South Carolina summer breeze.
However, not a moment passed without a deep sadness as we explored the plantation. The reality of life on a plantation for the majority of its inhabitants is just too hard to ignore. There were over 4 million slaves in the south by the mid 19th century, over 300 at Boone Hall alone. How could people have bought and sold other people and built wealth upon the profits of their labor? And what do we do today that, in 150 years, could be perceived with the same level of disbelief?
Here at Boone Hall, nine remaining brick slave cabins (the only left in the US) are lined along what is called Slave Street. The plantation does an incredible job in each of the nine cabins to represent through still images, audio, life-size mannequins and film what the life and culture of slaves and later sharecroppers in South Carolina. Most interesting was learning all about Gullah culture, essentially the mega-mix of cultures and language among the African-American population of the Charleston area.