Slave dwelling project works toward preservation

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CHARLESTON, S.C. — Over the past three years, Joe McGill has slept in almost 40 former slave dwellings in a dozen states, hoping to draw attention to the need to preserve the structures and tell their stories.

As part of the Slave Dwelling Project, Joe McGill has slept in old dwellings in a dozen states to draw attention to the need to preserve and tell their stories.   Now he is turning the project into a nonprofit group with a board of directors and executive director. Plans are also being made for a national conference in Savannah, Ga., in 2014.  BRUCE SMITH/ASSOCIATED PRESS
BRUCE SMITH/ASSOCIATED PRESS
As part of the Slave Dwelling Project, Joe McGill has slept in old dwellings in a dozen states to draw attention to the need to preserve and tell their stories. Now he is turning the project into a nonprofit group with a board of directors and executive director. Plans are also being made for a national conference in Savannah, Ga., in 2014.

Now, he’s expanding the effort and working to make the Slave Dwelling Project a nonprofit organization, with plans for a national conference next year. He said paperwork will be filed within the next two weeks to make it official.

“We tell a lot of our history through the buildings we choose to preserve and restore,” McGill told The Associated Press in an interview at the main house at McLeod Plantation, which has a row of slave cabins. “If we want to tell the story of America, preserving these slave dwellings is a start to telling that whole story. Sleeping in them helps, but it’s time to wake up now. It’s time to give this project a purpose.”

McGill, a program officer with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said he hopes the nonprofit could create a pool of money to funds for property owners who might not have all the resources to repair an old dwelling.

McGill has filed paperwork to get his nonprofit going, and the conference is scheduled for September 2014 in Savannah, Ga. He said he hopes it will bring together people from around the country to share their stories of saving slave dwellings and trade notes on overcoming obstacles to their preservation.

When McGill’s effort started, he wanted to preserve just cabins.

Now, it’s broadened to include all slave dwellings. In urban areas such as Charleston, many of those dwellings may still stand but are used as apartments or guest houses whose stories may not be told, McGill said.

McGill first slept in a slave cabin at Boone Hall Plantation near Charleston more than a decade ago as part of a program for The History Channel on the dispute over the Confederate flag that flew over the South Carolina Statehouse from the 1960s until 2000.

He returned to the slave dwelling project three years ago. Since then he has spread his sleeping bag in dwellings from Texas to Connecticut.

He said he remembers the eerie first night he slept in a cabin, hearing the sounds of dogs in the distance, conjuring in his mind the search for runaways during the years of slavery. Another time, he recalls waking up on Mother’s Day thinking of the children who once lived in such cabins being sold from their mothers’ arms.

There is no good estimate on how many slave quarters may still stand around the country, and helping to identify them is one of the objectives of the project. The census of 1860, the year before the Civil War broke out, listed almost 4 million people in slavery.

McGill said that since the effort started, one researcher was able to document at least 1,000. McGill said he frequently receives calls from people asking whether properties may have once housed slaves.

While McGill wants to preserve the dwellings, he said he does not think they should become museum pieces. He noted that structures once used as slave dwellings at both University of South Carolina and the University of Alabama are now used for such things as a computer services lab and storage.

“That’s fine. One thing I try to get over to people in this program is we need to let buildings evolve,” he said. “Let private owners let the buildings be what they want them to be. All I ask is that we preserve them and interpret them.”

McGill said creating the nonprofit will help advance the effort to preserve the dwellings.

“Right now sleeping in them is all I can do, which is not a bad thing because it brings attention,” he said.

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albertoli
179
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albertoli 08/17/13 - 09:25 pm
2
0
Good luck to Mr. McGill.

Good luck to Mr. McGill. This is part of American history that should be preserved. It shows that human beings, and we as Americans can, and do, strive to make ourselves better for one and all. History truly does repeat itself and a blind eye should never be turned toward it. We are truly the greatest nation in history, but we are made up of human beings and therefore susceptible to evil.

corgimom
32631
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corgimom 08/18/13 - 05:26 am
1
2
My greatgrandfather lived in

My greatgrandfather lived in a sod dugout on the Nebraska prairie. I guess that should've been preserved, too.

soapy_725
43678
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soapy_725 08/18/13 - 08:27 am
0
0
What about the WigWams and Wikiops? Cherry Hill Crossing?
Unpublished

What about the WigWams and Wikiops? Cherry Hill Crossing?

soapy_725
43678
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soapy_725 08/18/13 - 08:28 am
0
0
Augusta Homes? Nellieville? All Uncle Sam Projects?
Unpublished

Augusta Homes? Nellieville? All Uncle Sam Projects?

soapy_725
43678
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soapy_725 08/18/13 - 08:29 am
0
0
History hasn't repeated itself. You have to change to go back.
Unpublished

History hasn't repeated itself. You have to change to go back.

nocnoc
42806
Points
nocnoc 08/18/13 - 08:31 am
1
1
Good Luck trying

The major problem is.
All of those slave quarters and houses were made of untreated
wood, An the Termites and Rot got them long ago.

But, may be one of those Civil Rights Reverend Millionaires will donate $$$$ to help?

soapy_725
43678
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soapy_725 08/18/13 - 08:30 am
0
0
From Massa John's Plantation to Uncle Sam's Plantation.
Unpublished

From Massa John's Plantation to Uncle Sam's Plantation.

my.voice
4828
Points
my.voice 08/18/13 - 09:02 am
1
0
It is a positive thing we can

I applaud this great individual for a unique approach to bring this to the forefront. It is a positive thing that we can have this effort and local conversation on the topic in general. As a fellow human being, I am grateful for the accomplishments that have been made, and only wish it had not ever been this way. Further, I am saddened that in the most simplest terms we hate out fellow man. When you look down on another identically created human because of the color of their skin, well, it's just ignorance. I mean, there's got to be some sort of criteria other than pigment for inclusion, right? That's not to say that anyone should be ostracized from society, bit of they are, we certainly should have defendable standards.

We need to have conversations on the local level, in our neighborhoods, in our churches and civic organizations, schools and playgrounds on how to improve our connection with each other. The national media doesn't help stabilize but only to fan the flames of hatred and ignorance. Not everything that goes awry is race related, and when it is, it should be dealt with in discussion and seeking to understand, not to vilify and burn.

I'm still working on myself, how about you?

nocnoc
42806
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nocnoc 08/18/13 - 09:18 am
0
0
I have seen the shacks in the 60's

Many were not different than what my Poor sharecropper/mill worker Southern side had for a house up until the 1920's.

Layered wood planks, every cold wind blew right into the house, Newspaper used to seal and insulate some. Roof leaked a lot and they Wood burning stove in the center.

Outhouse in the back about 30-50 feet from the house.

corgimom
32631
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corgimom 08/18/13 - 02:14 pm
0
0
I don't know, I've never done

I don't know, I've never done it, but I think that living in a hole in the ground, with dirt walls, a dirt floor, and a dirt ceiling, would be pretty bad. My greatgrandfather came to Nebraska from Illinois on a white mule and had only what he could carry on the mule. The grass was up to the mule's stomach, as far as anybody could see. He broke that virgin sod by himself.

No furniture. No fireplace. Outdoor cooking. No nothing, just him and the mule. After awhile, he went back to Illinois, married my greatgrandmother, and they went back to the homestead.

I don't know if I could've done it. Back then, people were TOUGH.

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