A few weeks ago, my friend Sue gave me a copy of the film Moving Midway and told me that she thought I’d appreciate it, especially given my thoughts about Ani DiFranco’s decision to schedule and then cancel a songwriter retreat at a plantation.
So one evening, P and I sat down to watch this story of a white family who has decided to pick up their family home – Midway – and move it away from the land where it was originally built and had sat for near 200 years. The film also shares the perspective of an African American man who was descended from the people enslaved on that plantation and also of several other African Americans who tie their ancestry to that place . . . and to one of the original masters.
I loved the film because it brought together these two perspectives and gave each of them voice. When Robert Hinton – one of the filmmakers and a descendant of both the enslaved and free people of Midway – comes to the plantation, it’s not a wholly pleasant experience, of course, and when it’s time to move the house, he is both sad and happy – sad for the house and the meaning attached to it . . . and happy that the place his ancestors were enslaved will be paved over.
I absolutely understand Robert Hinton’s perspective – and I respect it. I cannot know what it was to return to a place where my family had been tortured and abused, where they had been owned. So I can see why someone might want that place razed and repurposed.
Yet, as someone who grew up on a plantation – although not a plantation my ancestors ever owned – I also mourn what can be lost when these places give way to shopping malls and big box stores. We lose some of ourselves – our great architecture and stories AND our horrible choices and economic practices. I think that history is precious so that we remember and so that we learn.
For me, this film served as a reminder that there is hope. When I see the black Hintons and the white Hintons gather together in Midway house, when I see them brought together by a place, I find hope. Hope that we will finally learn that our great southern plantation history is not only about rich white men who owned big houses and owned lots of land but is AT LEAST AS MUCH about the enslaved people who built those houses and worked that land, about the people who gave those white men their wealth.
The question for me is about how we are going to preserve these places – do we continue to keep them as museums that ignore the history of the scores of people who were enslaved there? Do we continue to pretend that these are simply “family homes” while ignoring the families that built them? Or do we honor all of the story – both black and white, both enslaved and free – and become richer for it? I pray we can honor and remember it all.
What are your feelings about plantations? Should they be razed or preserved? And if preserved, in what way?