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Written by Shannon Browning-Mullis, Curator of History and Decorative Arts

Antebellum mansions and plantations have been popular sites for Southern weddings for decades. Steeped in the romantic mythology of moonlight, magnolias, and hoop skirts, these historical settings produce a nostalgia for simpler, slower, more peaceful times. But those times, like the society they purport to embody, are a fantasy. The beautiful stately mansions and manicured landscapes did not appear out of thin air and were not created by the toil of hardworking white farmers. These lovely, serene landscapes were carved from the earth by the blood, sweat, and tears of the men, women, and children of African descent who were enslaved in these places. There is nothing romantic in this experience.

Though not a plantation, the Owens-Thomas House & Slave Quarters has experienced an evolution of slavery interpretation. When the site opened in 1954, there was no mention of enslavement. By the 1990s, enslaved people were acknowledged, but their experiences were not explored. It wasn’t until 2018 that our exhibits began to center the lives of every person who lived and worked on the site, exploring how they interacted and how power and privilege were exploited. We’re not perfect. There’s still a long way to go in using history to work toward justice today.

One small step in that journey is committing to not holding weddings on the site. As we commit to interpreting the history of enslavement with respect to those enslaved here and their descendants, it’s the least we can do. To do otherwise is to erase and ignore past violence and present oppression. This isn’t to say that no wedding or celebration should ever take place in a building built in the South before 1865, but in places that teach history, the history of oppressed people should be centered.

We’re happy to see that, in response to a campaign by Color of Change, wedding sites like The Knot and Pinterest are no longer promoting plantation weddings. We’re happy to join this effort to move toward a more just future.

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