Armchair Historians

Joe McGill, The Slave Dwelling Project

July 15, 2021 Anne Marie Cannon
Armchair Historians
Joe McGill, The Slave Dwelling Project
Chapters
Armchair Historians
Joe McGill, The Slave Dwelling Project
Jul 15, 2021
Anne Marie Cannon

In this episode, Anne Marie talks to The Slave Dwelling Project founder Joe McGill. Joe shares his journey and passion project. According to theslavedwellingproject.com, The Slave Dwelling Project envisions a future in which the hearts and minds of Americans acknowledge a more truthful and inclusive narrative of the history of The Nation, one that honors the contributions of all our people, is embedded and preserved in the buildings and artifacts of people of African heritage and inspires all Americans to acknowledge their ancestors.

One of the ways Joe brings attention to his mission is he actually hosts sleepovers at intact slave dwellings throughout the United States. Joe has rolled out his sleeping bag at slave dwelling structures in 25 states! Each sleepover begins with an often difficult dialogue, led by Joe, with his fellow campers, unpacking the truth about the history of the institution of slavery in the United States.

The Slave Dwelling Project website: https://slavedwellingproject.org
Slave Dwelling Project Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/slavedwellingproject/
Slave Dwelling Project Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SlaveDwellingProject/
Slave Dwelling Project Twitter: https://twitter.com/slavedwelling

Confederates in the Attic: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confederates_in_the_Attic

To Support Armchair Historians:
Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/armchairhistorians
Ko-fi: https://ko-fi.com/belgiumrabbitproductions


Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, Anne Marie talks to The Slave Dwelling Project founder Joe McGill. Joe shares his journey and passion project. According to theslavedwellingproject.com, The Slave Dwelling Project envisions a future in which the hearts and minds of Americans acknowledge a more truthful and inclusive narrative of the history of The Nation, one that honors the contributions of all our people, is embedded and preserved in the buildings and artifacts of people of African heritage and inspires all Americans to acknowledge their ancestors.

One of the ways Joe brings attention to his mission is he actually hosts sleepovers at intact slave dwellings throughout the United States. Joe has rolled out his sleeping bag at slave dwelling structures in 25 states! Each sleepover begins with an often difficult dialogue, led by Joe, with his fellow campers, unpacking the truth about the history of the institution of slavery in the United States.

The Slave Dwelling Project website: https://slavedwellingproject.org
Slave Dwelling Project Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/slavedwellingproject/
Slave Dwelling Project Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SlaveDwellingProject/
Slave Dwelling Project Twitter: https://twitter.com/slavedwelling

Confederates in the Attic: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confederates_in_the_Attic

To Support Armchair Historians:
Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/armchairhistorians
Ko-fi: https://ko-fi.com/belgiumrabbitproductions


Anne Marie Cannon:

Hello, my name is Anne Marie Cannon and I'm the host of armchair historians. What's your favorite history? Each episode begins with this one question. Our guests come from all walks of life, YouTube celebrities, comedians, historians, even neighbors from the small mountain community that I live in. There are people who love history and get really excited about a particular time, place or person from our distance or not so distant past. The jumping off point is the place where they became curious that entered the rabbit hole into discovery. Fueled by an unrelenting need to know more, we look at history through the filter of other people's eyes. armchair historians is a Belgian rabbit production. Stay up to date with us through Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Wherever you listen to your podcast that is where you'll find us. I'm chair historians as an independent, commercial free podcast. If you'd like to support the show and keep it ad free, you can buy us a cup of coffee through coffee or you can become a patron through Patreon links to both in the Episode Notes. Hello fellow armchairs dorians before we get into today's show, I'd like to take a moment to thank those who have supported the show over the past year PS we just celebrated our one year anniversary. So without further ado, a big heartfelt thank you to Mesa pack tremors eight Beverly Nicks Scott Greenberg, Edward Graham Paul boat, David Carroll, and last but of course not least, Ruth Rosenfeld, your support means the world to us. If you would like to support the show, it's really easy. Just go to the website, armchair historians.com and click on the Patreon link for as little as $1 a month for a one time contribution of one or more cups of coffee. I say that near quotes use the cofee link in this episode of armchair historians. I'm thrilled to share with you the conversation I had with the slave dwelling project founder Joe Miguel, the slave dwelling project envisions a future in which the hearts and minds of Americans acknowledge a more truthful and inclusive narrative of the history of the nation when that honors the contributions of all our people when that is embedded and preserved in the buildings and artifacts of people of African heritage and inspires all Americans to acknowledge their ancestors. Now one of the ways that Joe brings attention to his mission is he actually hosts sleep overs. At intact slave dwellings throughout the United States, Joe has rolled out his sleeping bag at slave dwelling structures in 25 different states, each sleep over begins with an often difficult dialogue led by Joe with his fellow campers unpacking the truth about the history of the institution of slavery in the United States. JOHN Miguel, welcome, and thank you for being here today. Thank you. And thanks for having me. We just get right off into the races. And I'm going to ask that question. What is your favorite history that we're going to be talking about today?

Joe McGill:

My favorite history is antebellum prior to the Civil War and the institutional enslaving of people or the peculiar institution. Okay.

Anne Marie Cannon:

Tell us about the project that you're working on and how that relates to your favorite history.

Joe McGill:

The project that I worked on is called the slave dwelling project. We're in 11 years of sleeping in slave dwellings, finding slave dwellings wherever they are in these United States and getting permission from the stewards to spend the night in these spaces with the goal of bringing attention to these spaces. Because you know, once upon a time, you could come to sites where these spaces exists. But this space would not be the focal point of why you're there are even a part of the narrative because these slave dwellings held enslave people, that's where that that's where they live. And there was this concentrated effort in our past to minimize our eliminate that element of our history. So having contact with some of these places, working for the National Trust for Historic Preservation at the time, seeing that historic buildings could be saved and should be saved. I knew the know how existed of how to save them, the resources to save them was is also there. But what was lacking was the will and the desire for the people who could do the saving, or the will or the desire of those who would be on the receiving end of obtaining knowledge that they could disseminate that desire was was not as prevalent now was not as prevalent there, then added it as it is now. And, you know, the slave dwelling project can take some of the credit for it, gaining more attention, because there are more sites out there that are restoring these places, and above and beyond destroying the places they are telling the stories of the people who inhabit those spaces.

Anne Marie Cannon:

So, okay, you go, you go to these places, and from what I can tell you stay in them, and you have groups of people that also stay there. And then you have, do you have dialogue and conversations? Is that correct?

Joe McGill:

Yeah. Well, sleeping is easy. You know, 11 years ago when I started this thing, it was just a second. Yes. I just saw your Yes. I love your shirt. Yeah. Yeah, I like my history. I like my history black.

Unknown:

Oh, the sugar.

Joe McGill:

Yeah, this is this is one of my creations. Yeah. And, you know, there are people with throughout the US who, who has one of these shirts, you know, an idea that came out of his head, this cranium. Just like, you know, just like the, you know, the slave dwelling project, same same idea. So, so yeah, the sleeping is easy. Any anybody can do that. But the project has evolved from from just sleeping, you know, 11 years ago, I just wanted to sleep in the at these places, because that brought attention. The question was to some and still is or why why do you want to sleep in these places? And the fun part is telling them Why? Well, the Why is to bring attention to because that works. Because you know, 11 years later, I'm I'm still at this thing. And the evolution came when we went beyond, you know, the sleeping portion of what we do. And go beyond that sleeping portion is what what we do, are the conversations that we have, before the sleep over, usually around a campfire. And it usually involves those topics that that people don't generally talk about, amongst people who don't look like them. You know, we talk about slavery and the legacy that is left on this nation. Prior to COVID, you know, such things such subject matters where, you know, Confederate monuments should they stay, or should they go weddings on plantations, white supremacy, white privilege, historical trauma, we will talk about all those things and more, well, then COVID hit. Because COVID hit, we have to adjust. And now I still go to these places. But I go alone, and I give people access to the place through zoom calls our Facebook Live. But just this past weekend, I went to Connecticut, and I had my first sleep over with other people more than a year. So yeah, that that turned out nicely. So I should be writing a blog soon. It's been a year and some change. You know, since I've written a blog, because the blogs that I write is based on the fact that not only have I stayed in the place overnight, but others have stayed in the place also. And I ask the participants, you know, to contribute to contribute to the blog that I write, and it makes it a little more exciting. You know, they want to know that. Yeah, I've been to this place. I've slept in this place. But you know, by others contributing to that blog, it gives their angle of that. Sleep over also gives it more than one voice.

Anne Marie Cannon:

I read somewhere that you've been to 25 different states and slept in quarters in 25 different states.

Joe McGill:

And the District of Columbia you go so so yeah, 25 states, most of them are southern states. But they're northern states in there. Also because slavery existed in northern states. And I usually get the most pushback when I tell people about what I do. And I tell them that I've taken this project to northern states because in their minds, as was in my mind 11 years ago, when I started this project, slavery was relegated to the south plantations in the south. Well, just having that thought in that thought only. You miss a lot. I missed a lot. I missed the urban scene. Slavery right in Charleston, South Carolina. And I certainly missed the slavery that existed in northern states. You know, the thing about the slavery that existed in northern states is that the northern state started to abolish slavery shortly after the Revolutionary War. So they did it legislatively. It took, of course, a civil war and the 13th amendment to end slavery in southern states. But even when the slavery was ended in those northern states, there was still complicity there were still complicit because they own the banks, the insurance companies, the ships, bringing them in, and the factories adding value to the cotton that was being picked in the south.

Anne Marie Cannon:

We don't hear that story very often. Set because when you said Connecticut, I was surprised, and I'm curious. So where were you in Connecticut?

Joe McGill:

I was in New London and suffield, New London, I've been going there up until COVID. I went, I had gone about five consecutive years. And then you know, this year, we picked it back up, you know, after COVID. But I also added suffield to the this past weekend, which was, which was quite exciting. You know, often times and I got I got a lot of the sights. The audiences aren't that diverse, diverse. It's mostly white. But that's okay. Yeah, well, the suffield event was was mostly white folks. Now, the event that I go for in New London is diverse, because it's it's June teeth is the Juneteenth commemoration. So we have a good, good mixed audience, good, diverse audience in New London.

Anne Marie Cannon:

So what has been some of the results, what has been some of the positive and negative experiences that you've had, since you've been doing this?

Joe McGill:

mostly positive, you know, the the number of sites that are doing the right thing, doing the right thing in the sense that they are telling some element of the stories of the people who were enslaved that those sites and telling them in a manner that's, that's satisfactory, you know, they're not talking about the happy slaves, or the Neverland slave owners, that numbers of places doing that is increasing. There are also sites that are working now more with the descendants of those who are enslaved there, that's more of a challenge for sites because, you know, some of them are afraid to go there, because of that, our word that's being tossed around a lot, you know, reparations, some of them don't want to go there, because it's just all the bureaucracy that is involved in, in trying to do all that. It comes from the other way, also, you know, they're African Americans that don't want to set foot on a plantation because of all that it represented. So, you know, there is that I'm trying to, you know, convince as many people that look like me, that it is necessary for us, our faces to be in the audience at these places. Because if we're not going to these places, why should a site care? Or why should a site be concerned about telling our part of the story when, you know, none of us are in the audience? Well, part of the reason that, that a lot of us are not in the audience is because of what you know, the way things used to be, you know, those places where we're telling that that will mantic element of the story, you know, they weren't telling the stories of the enslaved they weren't telling the part of the story that that makes people uncomfortable, that they're talking about, again, magnolias in moonlight and hoop skirts and mint juleps and things of this nature, our for parents, then want to go to those places to, to hear that, and now with the offsprings of these people who are not capable of going to these places, and we are in a position to affect change in demand that these places, you know, tell the stories of enslaved ancestors and tell it in a manner that's respect. What

Anne Marie Cannon:

does that look like? Maybe you have an example of somebody who is telling that story and telling it appropriately.

Joe McGill:

Yeah, well, you know, that looks like a place that you can go to and, and yeah, you can hear about that nice, beautiful big house but but also include in that well, but who built it to physically build it? You know, they want the they weren't there. Architects, but, but you know who cut down that tree. That's not that building that that axe mark that made that that tree, a beam. Now, that hole that house up all those X marks Who are those two marks who put those there who made those bricks that are now that house whose fingerprint is that in those bricks, if you look at the tax record that that existed, these people were property and they paid taxes on them, you might be able to pull the name of off of that record. Now, you know, you look at the census information, even though they won't give them a name, but they only numerate them. Because, you know, they'll enumerate them because of the for the purpose of congressional representation. And of course, it's also necessary to enumerate them, because you're paying taxes on them. If you're not paying taxes on an enslaved person, you got to prove that they ran away, they died or you sold them. So you got to have records of that. And I'm saying all that to say this, you know, a lot of those sites say that they don't tell the story because they don't have any evidence of their existence. Well, they do in all those all those forms, although things that that I just just mentioned, that is as their existence, you look into those court records, look into those bankruptcies, you know, look into those property records, because that's what they were property. If you see them doing an inventory, then that means and slave people are listed. And that's the story. You're saying?

Anne Marie Cannon:

Yeah. A while back, I don't know whether it was something I was watching or reading. But there's a slave quarters somewhere in the south. And they actually have, I don't know what you call it, but they would take like the, the, you know, how the owls cough up stuff, you know? And they would actually get that and the content of it. And they would decipher the history through it. of the people who inhabited the quarters, which I thought was fascinating.

Joe McGill:

Yeah, they look, archaeologists and archivists or archivist archivists, they look for rat's nest of a bad period, you know, they they'll pull something away from a wall or a sighting or whatever it is that wall, they'll pull it away. And in, they see these rats in this in there, and instead of just getting just tossing them, they look through it and take carelessly to see what information they could gather from there. They're strips of paper, sometimes strips and newspapers are, are sometimes maybe a small metal object that that's pertinent to that period in history. So yeah, archivists. You know, that's what they do. And, you know, the wall itself, sometimes you're using newspaper for installation. Now, that would be a more modern period in our history. But still, that's still you know, valid, valuable information.

Anne Marie Cannon:

Well, this is an obvious question, why this history? Why this history? And when did you first learn about this history? You know, kind of like that? When did you learn about it? And why this history for you?

Joe McGill:

Yeah, well, you know, this history that, that they taught me in school, South Carolina history, World History. It was a history that was a product of recent desegregation, our recent integration where the schools were desegregated and integrated, but the curriculum was not. It was still that God with the win hoop skirt, that version of history that was taught to me as a South Carolinian. Well, you know, I had to, I had to purge my mind of all that. Because you know, that history gave me nothing to really be proud of, you know, even in, in college, when I when I got out of the military and went to college after the military, the history, you know, the necessary history that I had to take, still wasn't that exciting to me. Still wasn't that inspiring to me. But it was my summer job at Ford something that I got while I was still in going to school that got me interested in history, because now I'm working at the Ford where the Civil War started. So I had to immerse myself in history, in immersing myself in this history. I'm learning a history now. The way I should have learned history, all alone. Because now I'm learning about slavery, the fact that this nation was built on slavery, all the luxuries that you know, these and slavers were afforded came at the expense of stolen labor. So no, I'm not I'm learning about this in a manner that that I should have known or should have learned about when it was first taught to me. So this history came about, as a result of me getting the job at Fort Sumter and knowing that I had to be well versed in know what I was talking about, because now I'm in front of an audience, disseminating history. And to do that, you got to at least know the history that you're disseminating. And of course, the slave dwelling project built on that. It also built on the fact that before the slave dwelling project came about, I was a civil war reenactor the Civil War, reenacting came about? Because I saw the movie glory. And at the time, I started the Civil War group, I was a park ranger at Fort Sumpter, and for Moultrie, you know, witnessing a lot of Confederate reenactors and having disdain for what I was witnessing, because, you know, in my mind, they were commemorating an era in history that enslaved my ancestors. For them to ask me to be a part of their organization, I thought it was a, you know, was a slap in the face because not that they were asking me to come and serve as a cook or anything of that nature. They wanted me to come and be a combatant in the Confederate Army, because they had taken the research that they had done at the time, and they saw that it might have been some black combatants in the Civil War, probably enough to count on one hand, but they took the fact that the Confederate Army was conscripting the enslaved people and had had them in their ranks as cooks and hustlers people who take care of horses and fix wagons and dug in, built the forts. Who may after the Civil War had claimed a pension just based on that, well, some of these researchers or some of these guys who wanted the bad five to be more, they were kind of taking that and then their minds making it more sound, you know, justifying the fact that there were blacks fighting for the Confederacy. So you know, they were trying to get me into their ranks to further that that falsehood, the fact that they're taking this handful of combatants and trying to make them more than they were. And I was not about that, and furthering their cause. So, you know, I started the Civil War unit in Charleston, South Carolina. So I was building on this, this knowledge of black history and all this came together. When I was working for the National Trust, I had the opportunity. When I left the National Trust, I'm sorry, before I went to the National Trust, after I left the Park Service, after I left pin center, I went to, I went to Iowa, to build the museum to oversee the building of the museum. And it was then I was asked to be a part of a History Channel documentary, based on the fact that I was written about in a book called Confederates in the attic by Tony Horwitz. And, and because I was written about that it was a book about reenactors, I got the opportunity to get a part in this documentary called the unfinished Civil War. And that built on the on the knowledge and opportunities that I had. And while filming this documentary, the gentlemen, the producer, wanted a little more substance for what he was portraying in this documentary. Of course, this documentary was just falling around Civil War reenactors and figuring out what made them tick. And he was looking for a little more substance for the documentary, and I told him about this crazy idea that I have had sleeping in the same cabin. And he made it happen. And he made that very first stay happened at BOONE HALL plantation in 1999. But see, at that time, I was doing it strictly for that purpose, because it was a part of that documentary, although my idea is still a part of that documentary, and I just kind of did it and I kind of left it alone. Well, in 2009, right around 2008 Magnolia where I work now, they were restoring the cabins, and they brought in a team of experts to evaluate the work that was being done while I was one of those team members that they brought in and that that idea as we were looking at those cabins and inspecting those cabins, I dusted off that all idea and thought you know, hey, when they finish this, maybe I can spend the night well I said it out loud. And whoever said it out loud to pick it up the chain and they thought it was a great idea and and I thought because they thought it was a great idea. I acquired a list from the State Historic Preservation Office of those places because it was easier for them to understand my intent because their preservation is just like I am. So they provided me this list. And I started making phone calls based on this list I got from them. And the Stewart started saying, Yes, come on, you can do this. And I made a list. And I started it in 2010. And 11 years later, you know, 25 states later in the District of Columbia. We're still at it. Wow.

Anne Marie Cannon:

So is this like a side job that you do?

Joe McGill:

Well, I'm kind of like a full time. Yeah. It's like I got two full time jobs. Okay. You know, Magnolia Plantation and gardens. You can find me there Wednesday through Sundays, Wednesdays, Wednesdays through Sundays when I'm not on one of my trips. But like, last week, I was, uh, I was in Connecticut. Well, this week, I go to Hilton Head Island in Galveston, Texas for the commemoration of June teen. And what better place to be than in Galveston, Texas with June teen. And the last weekend of this month, I go to the governor's mansion, the Virginia's Governor's Mansion for sleep over.

Anne Marie Cannon:

What would you like? my listeners to know they can know one thing about this history? What would you like to leave them with?

Joe McGill:

Yeah, it's a history that's necessary, especially now, in these days and times as this effort afoot to quell this type of history. And its political. We need not entertain that thought of not teaching the real history of this nation. You know, we've been sugarcoating our history for far too long in this sugarcoating has gotten us to a place where you know, some history is is being minimized. It shouldn't be minimized, he talked about is written that, you know, we we are the huddled masses. And but huddle mass means that there are many of us, many people who don't look like us, in this nation who don't worship like us, in this nation, who sexual preferences, not that of the norm. These are people in the less we need to coexist. If we are to form this perfect union, we got to, you know, let those who are not like us exist, and not minimize them are their way of life, not make them the enemy found out in my time that I get along well with people who are well traveled. Because they think more broadly, they know that they're not the only people in the world are their kind is not the only kind in the world they think beyond that immediate area that some people live in there. You know, there's some people who are born in a place and die in that same place with very little travel. There's a scene in that night that I don't want to butcher it. If you look at a tombstone. You see, you see the day they're born in the date that they die, then there's a dash they said the content isn't a dash. What did you do those times? Were you one of the ones that just stay there you were born in this place and you just died in this place? Are you one of those? Are you one of the ones that broaden your horizon because you wanted to get beyond that place and go the other place and in mingle with other people in coexist with other people. You know, I want to be one of those who coexisted with other people, and hopefully paved the way for others to coexist in this world. Also, guys, our conference is September 30. through October 2, changing narratives and changing times. We're going to be dealing with all all these changes that are coming about you know, with the narrative, we've got a lot of statutes coming down a lot of Confederate monuments coming down, and your mind is no longer Uncle Ben is no longer Lady Antebellum is no longer Dixie Chicks are not the chicks. And we've got people kind of piling on if you will, changing the names of a lot of places in you know, I'm not saying all this are good or bad, but I do know that we're going to be talking about it all at our upcoming conference. Is it a virtual conference

Anne Marie Cannon:

or in person? Yeah, it is this virtual okay. And what's the name of it?

Joe McGill:

Changing narratives and changing times. Yeah, and you could find all that information on our website slave dwelling project.org

Anne Marie Cannon:

which I'll link out to all these on our episode notes. Was there anything else that I haven't asked you or they you know, you wanted to share?

Joe McGill:

You guys we're gonna you know, as I stated, my first sleep over with others and oh, For a year happened this past weekend at in Connecticut. We're going to be writing a blog in about two weeks. So hopefully we're getting to a place where we're comfortable enough to sleep with people that we don't know. Which is interesting to me.

Anne Marie Cannon:

How does somebody get connected with the sleep over? How does that happen?

Joe McGill:

Yeah, go on a website. It's all there. Okay. You know, you can see our upcoming schedule, and they have these ways to, to link in with us. A lot of these opportunities will be through digital means.

Anne Marie Cannon:

Okay. Thank you so much. I really appreciate hearing about this project. I'll definitely follow it. Also on the website, I assume there's some way that we can support the project, different ways that we can do that.

Joe McGill:

Yeah, there is that section that Yeah, please always visit best sectional website.

Anne Marie Cannon:

Okay. Thank you so much for being here today. I really appreciate your time. You're welcome. There you have it, Joe McGill and the slave dwelling project. For more information about Joe McGill and the slave dwelling project, be sure to check out our episode notes. Thanks for joining us. Have a great week.