Would You Sleep Where Slaves Once Lived?

Would you rent an apartment that, a century and a half ago, was once a slave cabin? Chuck Corley, a developer from Columbia, South Carolina, seems to think that someone will, says NBC News.

Corley, who has renovated other historic sites, including the Lemmon Hill Plantation and Corley Hall Plantation, is planning to turn the long-empty, boarded-up structures in Anderson, South Carolina into an apartment complex.

The Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation purchased the structures in 2009 and prevented them from being destroyed; its director says that they are the “last-known slave cabins in the upstate.” Corley is now under contract to buy the buildings and turn them into rental units. Bobby Baxter, who has lived near the site of the slave cabins since the early 1960s and seen them deteriorate year after year, welcomes Corley’s plans. “It’s important to keep the squatters out of here,” he says.

Commenting on how “well-built” the slave cabins were, Corley says he hopes “to save [them] in as pure a form as we can save.” Renovating the cabins could cost from $50,000 to $100,000, he estimates.

If Corley proceeds with his plans, it will not be the first time that a site where slaves lived — a building of deep historical significant about a not-too-distant and dark period of America’s past — has been renovated and then used in ways that would have been unthinkable. A number of former slave quarters in Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and North Carolina have been turned into bed and breakfasts.

At B&W Courtyards Bed and Breakfast in New Orleans, a slave cabin has been converted into a “Barbados-style beach house.” At the Boxley Bed and Breakfast in Madison, North Carolina, guests have a choice of sleeping in the inn’s main house or in a cottage where slaves once lived. The Prospect Hill Plantation Inn in Charlottesville, Virginia offers guests a number of sleeping options, from the 1740s overseer’s cottage to the the 1790 slave quarters to “Sanco Pansy’s cottage, originally the residence of a former slave.”

One manager of one of these converted properties in Louisiana describes them as “buildings with some history”; he also notes that the bed and breakfast is “not responsible for the history. The history’s there … Either you live with your past or you destroy it.” Developer Corley makes a similar argument, saying that he does recognize that slavery is “such a part of American history” while still making his plansto convert the South Carolina slave quarters into apartments.

Angela da Silva of the National Black Tourism Network counters that converting former slave quarters into bed and breakfasts — into vacation lodgings — is “truly whitewashing slavery.” Turning former slave cabins into apartments that people would actually live in full-time raises a number of ethical issues. More than a few of us (I’ll include myself) would not care to sleep, much less live, in a place where people once lived as slaves.

Certainly it is important to preserve historic structures and learn the full story about this country’s past. In 2010, residents of Greenville, South Carolina rehabilitated a slave cabin from the 1840s. The cabin had been threatened with demolition in the face of a housing development; residents rallied to disassemble the structure and move it to the Living History Farm at Roper Mountain Science Center, which is owned by the Greenville County Schools. The reconstructed cabin now serves a valuable role, to teach children about the United State’s past and the importance of historic preservation.

In April, a $10 million gift to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation donated funds to restore slave quarters at Jefferson’s Monticello plantation. At least two log buildings on Mulberry Row will be rebuilt. One is thought to have housed relatives of Sally Hemings, who is believed to have had at least six children fathered by Jefferson. As senior curator Susan Stein says, “By bringing back the place, we bring back the people, and we’re able to put a face on slavery. It’s actually the lives of people.”

Homes where slaves once lived have an important story to tell about America’s past. Is it right for commercial interests — bed and breakfast proprietors, real estate developers — to be profiting from sites where slaves formerly resided? Does converting them for such uses amount to yet another example of the legacy of racism in the United States?

Photo via Thinkstock


Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson4 years ago

yes I would stay. why are we so afraid to acknowledge that the past happened? it is our history, and it isn't going to go away. tearing them down would be destroying an important piece of our past. racism would be trying to avoid anyone knowing what we did..

GGma Sheila D.
S Ann D4 years ago

Very torn...to save the histric buildings on their own evidently isn't feasible. But to profit from them I'm not certain is right. Then to keep them historically accurate would be impossible - they didn't have indoor plumbing back then...

Marg H.
Marg H4 years ago

I am still trying to see how I feel about this.
It COULD offer a genuine visit back to the past where modern people could have a real experience of a horrible situation. But that depends on the "renovation" - with a price tag of $50,ooo I think the intention is to have a complete departure from it's history into a modern makeover totally unrelated to its past. In other words, just turn it into another piece of real estate.
That would be a golden opportunity lost - the same as if the gas chambers of Auschwiz etc were given a make over which left their history behind and they were "renovated" beyond their shameful but priceless historical value as a monument to horror.
So now I know my answer - I would go there, stay overnight to have a sombre mindful engagement with the past - but I would NOT go there if it was turned into a "merry motel".

Alexandra Rodda
Alexandra Rodda4 years ago

It would be good if a charity or other organization took over the management of the cabins and used the profit for the benefit of the descendants of the enslaved people.

Dandelion G.
Sheryl G4 years ago

Be respectful. That chapter in history is nothing to make a mockery of. A living museum is one thing, to make sure today's citizens understand what had taken place. But bed and breakfasts isn't in keeping with respect.

Dani C.
Dani C4 years ago

interesting...it should stand as is if not being restored

Evelyn B.
Evelyn B4 years ago

I think that a lot depends on how this is done. If it is combined with information about how the cabin was during the time of slavery, then it is better than having the building fall into ruin and be completely forgotten.
There are a number of prisons being converted into hotels around the world - the logic of damning the cabins would also apply to these .... Some are hotels with stars, some are "themed" - like the prison hotel at Karosta in Latvia, where clients experience a (toned down) experience of being a prisoner of the red army ...

Terri J.
Terrice J4 years ago

Actually, I would love to have one of these cabins...I hate living in my way too expensive apartment on the 3rd floor. I love the porch. I can see one with a dog and cat laying on the porch, flowers around the outside and a veggie garden. But you know these are going to be "preserved" and the cost to stay in one will be astronomical! So sad...I hope the history is not lost...

Kathy F.
Kathy F4 years ago

There is a story that took place in the famous Madame Lalaurie home, one where slaves were treated more cruelly then any known on record. After all of the horror had been discovered, sometime later the house was converted into apartments which were rented by immigrants. One night a man woke to find the figure of a woman choking him. About that time a pair of hands belonging to a black man appeared behind her, grabbed hold of her arms and pulled them back, at which they both disappeared. In my opinion only, perhaps it would be best to not feed energy to a place that holds so much already.

Alicia N.
Alicia N4 years ago

tourist attraction = greedy people