Then I started on another paragraph about the many trinkets and artifacts that get preserved at those homes for display and how no one ever seems to wonder how those items are kept in such pristine condition considering the people who lived in the house didn't do much work. Maybe the lady of the house kept her trousseau organized--hand washed and ironed her own linen tablecloths and embroidered napkins. Maybe she polished her own silver brushes and handheld mirrors, then carefully wrapped them in tissue paper before storing them in velvet-lined boxes. Maybe she endured the heat of the sun to tend to the antique rose bushes, camellias, and hibiscus. Or perhaps that was the job of her husband, who also rose early every morning to tend to his vast acreage of cotton/sugar/rice/tobacco, which he planted, picked, and prepared for sale all by himself, dressed impeccably in a perfectly antebellum seer sucker or white linen suit.
For example, it is fair to argue that no one goes to Versailles to learn about the people who worked there, so why should anyone care about the people employed on southern plantations? Of course, Versailles is a beautiful palace museum, a showcase to the excesses of the French Monarchy, and we know this because once the servants got tired of going hungry while serving cake, enleves leur têtes!
|Hemings' Cabin (2019)|
After all, your grandparents came to America years after all of that happened via a 'legal' immigration system that excluded Chinese immigrants, for example. Black people were already emancipated, so your Sicilian/German ancestors didn't own any slaves. Instead, they worked hard at those jobs in the industrial North and Midwest in factories, building trades, and shipyards (where the Blacks who had escaped Southern peonage could only secure work as janitors, cooks, and manual laborers). Your ancestors were allowed to fight to defend their adopted country, while Black and American Indian soldiers languished in segregated units or were barred from joining the unions. While it is tragic and unforgivable that 11,000 Germans and less than 2,000 Italians were interned during World War II; between 110,000 and 120,000 Japanese-Americans (note the hyphen, because many were naturalized citizens) were interned on the US mainland and in Hawaii. After the War, your ancestors took advantage of the GI Bill and moved to suburbs like Levittown, NY and Clybourne Park, IL, while we faced restrictive covenants and redlining.
But by all means, do not allow these pesky facts to ruin your visit to Tara, Twelve Oaks, Nottoway or whatever other plantation you visit during your stay. (Update: I've learned that your Yelp complaint was posted about McLeod Plantation in South Carolina...did you even look at the brochure?) I'm sure that the little old ladies in lace white gloves who maintain these historic homes would rather host an upcoming wedding/vow renewal, prom, debutante ball, etc., than answer hard questions. For decades, they didn't want to talk about the slavery either because their side lost that war, so instead they regaled visitors with alternative tall tales like Gone With the Wind. That's a far more interesting saga than say...the story of why Hattie McDaniel couldn't attend the premiere of the very film that won her an Oscar.
Guess what, we (the Blacks, Native Americans, Latinos, Asian Pacific Islanders) are tired too. We're tired of insisting that our stories are as valid and as important and as significant as others. We're frustrated that the history of slavery and segregation in this country are considered optional, as if racism was no big deal. Because an understanding of slavery makes it a lot harder to ignore the Trail of Tears, the role of Chinese railroad workers in westward expansion, the Bracero Program and migrant farmwork, Hawaii, and the immigration raids in Mississippi. Understanding our history in this country is acknowledging that it is all American History--including how your Sicilian and German ancestors were similarly victimized.
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