Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : August 19th 2013 Contents A33
Monday, August 19, 2013 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
CHARLESTON---Over the past
three years, Joe McGill has slept
in almost 40 former slave
dwellings in a dozen US states,
hoping to draw attention to the
need to preserve the structures
and tell their stories.
Now he s expanding the effort
and working to make the Slave
Dwelling Project a non-profit
organisation, with plans for a
national conference next year. He
said paperwork would 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
McGill, a programme officer
with the National Trust for His-
toric Preservation, said he hopes
the non-profit could create a pool
of money to provide funds for
property owners who might not
have all the resources to repair
an old dwelling.
McGill has filed paperwork to
get his non-profit going, and the
conference is scheduled for Sep-
tember 2014 in Savannah, Geor-
gia. He said he hopes it would
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 pro-
gramme for The History Channel
on the dispute over the Confed-
erate flag that flew over the South
Carolina Statehouse from the
1960s until 2000. The Confed-
erate flag was used by the seces-
sionist, pro-slavery southern
states in the American Civil War
McGill 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 proj-
ect. The census of 1860, the year
before the Civil War broke out,
listed almost 4 million people in
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
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 the University
of South Carolina and the Uni-
versity 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 pro-
gramme is we need to let build-
ings evolve," he said.
"Let private owners let the
buildings be what they want
preserve them and interpret
McGill said creating the non-
profit will help advance the effort
to preserve the dwellings.
"Right now sleeping in them
thing because it brings attention,"
he said. (AP)
Man works to
save US slave
A photo shows a row of
slave cabins at McLeod
Carolina. AP PHOTOS
Joe McGill, who works with the National Trust For Historic Preservation, sits outside
one of the slave cabins at McLeod Plantation in Charleston, South Carolina, last
week. As part of the Slave Dwelling Project, McGill has slept in old slave dwellings in
a dozen states during the past three years to draw attention to the need to preserve
the structures and tell their stories. He is turning the project into a nonprofit group.
"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"
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