Academic journal article Southeastern Geographer

Debating Race through the Tourist Plantation: Analyzing a New York Times Conversation

Academic journal article Southeastern Geographer

Debating Race through the Tourist Plantation: Analyzing a New York Times Conversation

Article excerpt

On June 22, 2000 Ginger Thompson's "Reaping what was sown on the old plantation" was published in the New York Times (NYT) as part of a series of articles on race relations in America. That article examined a controversy manifested through two people, one representing the history of the old white establishment and the other representing the history of former slaves at a tourist plantation. With the Critical Race Theory tenet of storytelling as theoretical background, a qualitative content analysis of the feedback from "Reaping what was sown ..." was completed. From the NYT message posting forum, 419 messages were archived, classified, and interpreted. While there are differences in how blacks and whites view tourist plantations, there is ample commonality, with many nuanced online responses that defy common generalizations. These recorded responses challenge the impression that blacks and whites view tourist plantations entirely differently. In this respect, museums and historical sites related to slavery have an impact on public dialogue and debate well beyond direct visitation. As illustrated here, the very mention of these sites and the range of feelings they evoke serve as an important springboard for a much broader discussion of race and race relations in America.

KEY WORDS: race relations, plantation, slavery, New York Times, content analysis

"A double image shimmers beneath the towering trees. One is for those

who do not consider the history; beauty shrouds the shame. The other is for those who recognize that they have come upon the site of a great crime and can feel a shiver of remembrance."

David Shipler, A Country of Strangers: Blacks and Whites in America (1997, pg. 41)

INTRODUCTION

In the quote above, Shipler (1997) describes divergent narratives of black and white America. The dominant white view of the Gone with the Wind plantation--beauty shrouding the shame--contrasts strongly with the black view of a plantation as the sight of repression, brutality and death. We set out to examine Shipler's contention that blacks and whites in America view tourist plantations, and their representations, in a significantly different light.

From June 4 through July 16, 2000, The New York Times (NYT) published an article series entitled "How Race Is Lived in America." The fifteen articles published in this series sought "to capture some of the troubling, challenging issues Americans still face" (New York Times Website). Associated with each article was a unique on-line forum. Number eight in the series, Ginger Thompson's "Reaping what was sown on the old plantation," was published on June 22nd (Thompson 2000).

Thompson's article examined a controversy between two people, one representing the history of the old white establishment and the other representing the history of former slaves at the Magnolia Plantation located in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Since 1994, portions of the Magnolia Plantation have formed the Cane River Creole National Historic Park, managed by the National Park System as they preserve and interpret the cultural heritage of the area. Betty Hertzog, a white descendent of the family who owned and operated the plantation, believes it is her familial obligation to ensure that her family's history is centrally represented at the tourist site. Carla Cowles, a National Park employee and an African-American woman, states that for too long the voices of the former slaves were muted at the plantation museum and it is now time that their voices have primacy.

From the postings on the online NYT forum, we captured and analyzed reader responses to this article in order to determine if there is evidence to support or refute Shipler's statement regarding the double, contradictory image between white and black views of tourist plantations. While our study does not examine direct visitation to museums and historic sites related to slavery, it illustrates how the very mention of these places and the wide range of feelings they evoke serve as an important springboard for a much broader discussion of race and race relations in America. …

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