no whiteness (lost) is so white as the memory of whiteness
William Carlos Williams
The gift shop at San Francisco Plantation, on the east bank of the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, sells pralines, postcards, and cookbooks. It also sells “Black People,” miniature plastic boys eating watermelon and women wearing head rags that sit next to the cash register. Once slaveholders bought black people and brought them “home” to this very place; now tourists can take black people home, too, as slavery shrinks into a memory of leisure anchored by recommodified things. During the Lost Cause, the “white home” became a symbol that connected antebellum racial hierarchies with postbellum society. As Grace Hale writes, it “served as a major site in the production of racial identity precisely because there… racial interdependence was both visible and denied.”1 It is a very powerful thing to deny something obvious and have that denial accepted as truth. The white home as symbol reached its apex in the plantation house, and plantation houses and their tourist apparatus still call imaginary worlds into being.
The plantation tours, led mainly by women, that have become practically de rigueur for white tourists in the South are grounded in the inspiration of southern women who were part of the planter class, as Patricia West’s account of the restoration of Mount Vernon points out. By the mid-nineteenth century, Washington’s crumbling plantation had created a predicament for the nation as well as for southerners. Congressional efforts to buy it had come to naught; when the poor relation who inherited it offered it to the national government in 1853, “key members of Congress balked, predicting