The site manager at Historic Latta Plantation said he will not apologize for a now-canceled event, scheduled for Juneteenth, that was set to tell the story of Black emancipation partially through the eyes of White enslavers, Confederate soldiers and other “White refugees” of the Civil War.
The “Kingdom Coming” event, once scheduled for June 19, drew quick rebuke on social media, as well as from Mecklenburg County government. Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles joined the growing cacophony with a disapproving tweet of her own.
Juneteenth is a day increasingly set aside to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States. It was on that date — June 19, 1865 — that a U.S. Army general carried a message of liberation to enslaved residents of Galveston, Texas, the nation’s last bastion of bondage, nearly two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.
In a statement posted late Saturday on Latta Plantation’s website, Ian Campbell, Latta Plantation’s site manager, said his Juneteenth event was never meant to glorify slavery, enslavers or the Confederacy. Yet as criticism of the event spread, he said, Latta Plantation was forced to cancel the three-hour program “due to security concerns for volunteers and staff.”
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The outcry, he said, was the result of misinformation.
Campbell, who described himself as “an American man of African descent,” said he accepted “full responsibility for (the program’s) content entirely!”
“To the masses on social media and politicians, no apology will be given for bringing a unique program to educate the public about former slaves becoming FREE!,” the statement read.
Campbell was especially critical of Mayor Lyles, “the media’s corps of yellow journalist,” and “other influential and prominent government officials” — most of whom, he said, he had never seen as visitors to Latta Plantation.
In promoting “Kingdom Coming,” Latta Plantation, which describes itself as a “living history museum” in the town of Huntersville, had offered this event description:
“Come out to Historic Latta Plantation for a one-night event, Saturday, June 19, 2021. You will hear stories from the massa himself who is now living in the woods. Federal Troops (Yankees) have him on the run and his former bondsmen have now occupied his home and are now living high on the hog. Hear how they feel about being freedmen. The overseer is now out of a job. What will he do now that he has no one to oversee from can see to can’t see. White refugees have been displaced and have a story to tell as well. Confederate soldiers who will be heading home express their feelings about the downfall of the Confederacy.
The ticket price was set at $25.
Late Friday, before Campbell’s statement was posted, Mecklenburg County tweeted a statement declaring “zero tolerance for programs that do not embrace equity and diversity.”
The county’s tweet said Mecklenburg Park and Recreation was unaware of the Latta Plantation event until it appeared on social media.
“We immediately reached out to the organizers and the event was canceled. As a result of this incident, Mecklenburg County is looking at its contract with the facility vendor regarding future programming,” the county’s statement read.
Lyles tweeted her disapproval as well:
“We should not support any business or organization that does not respect equality, history, and the truth of the African-American people’s journey to freedom,” the mayor said in her tweet. “Despite intent, words matter. And the Historic Latta Plantation should know better.”
In a tweet of its own, the Huntersville Board of Commissioners said it had suspended its financial support for Latta Plantation, “pending further investigations into the facts surrounding this program.”
In his Saturday rebuttal, Campbell said, “The core point of this program was overlooked by scores of people.”
“To tell the story of these freedmen would be pointless if the stories of others were not included,” he said. “Many of you may not like this but, their lives were intertwined, the stories of massa, the Confederate soldiers, the overseer, the displaced white families. How would we know how the enslaved became free or what their lives were like before freedom came? It didn’t happen with the stroke of a pen. Federal troops came across many of these plantations to enforce federal laws and many of the owners fled. What they couldn’t take with them they left behind, this included many of their enslaved property.”
Campbell noted a famous statue of Booker T. Washington that stands on the campus of Tuskegee University. The statue depicts Washington, a 19th Century educator and activist, lifting a “veil of ignorance from his people” through education and industry.
“I by no means will let this deter me and the vision of lifting the veil of ignorance,” Campbell wrote.
He also expressed common cause with U.S. Civil War Gen. William T. Sherman, who famously loathed reporters.
“I understand what he may have been going through,” Campbell wrote. “…The media’s corps of yellow journalist had a perfect opportunity to educate, however, they chose to whip the public into a frenzy, it worked.”
“As long as I have been at Historic Latta Plantation as a volunteer, then as a part-time employee, then as the education coordinator, then as the interpretive farm manager, then as site manager, I have never seen Vi Lyles, the Mayor of the great city of Charlotte visit our site or any other influential and prominent government officials. The same applies to NPR, WBTV, the Charlotte observer et al.”
Campbell said the “opinions and concerns” of “citizens in the community” had been “respectfully noted.”
“In closing,” he wrote, “my job will be to continue to educate. Historic Latta Plantation’s narrative will be to give a voice to our ancestors enslaved and as freedmen who were denied a voice. We will speak for them in a compassionate, accurate, and sensitive manner.”