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Huntersville museum manager defends canceled Juneteenth event
'Kingdom Coming' axed after complaints of racism
 
Published Tuesday, June 15, 2021 1:30 am
by The Associated Press

PHOTO | LATTA PLANTATION
Ian Campbell, site manager of Latta Historic Plantation in Huntersville, defends the "Kingdom Coming" program that was canceled Friday after complaints of racial insensitivity by Charlotte and Mecklenburg County officials.

HUNTERSVILLE — The manager of a historical museum in North Carolina is defending himself from criticism that an event he planned offered a sympathetic portrayal of slaveowners.


Ian Campbell, site manager of the Latta Historic Plantation in Huntersville, posted a statement Saturday on the plantation’s website saying that he will never glorify the Confederacy, white supremacy or plantation owners. He accused the media of a rush to judgement.


Latta canceled its Juneteenth program “Kingdom Coming” after complaints emerged about a promotion for the event. The event description seemed in parts to mirror the perspective of a re-enactor who says attendees “will hear stories from the massa himself” and offered sympathetic commentary about a white overseer who no longer had slaves to oversee.


The word “massa” mocks the Black pronunciation of “master.”


The event was canceled Friday amid criticism of the event by Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles and others. The plantation is operated by a nonprofit corporation but Mecklenburg County owns the property.


Campbell, who is Black, said the event was canceled out of concern for staff safety.


Juneteenth commemorates the tradition June 19 date of the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States.


The Carolina Raptor Center, an environmental education organization located next to Latta Plantation, distanced itself from the neighboring property in offering free admission on June 19. The nonprofit Raptor Center, which is “dedicated to the conservation of raptors and other birds of prey,” according to an email it sent Monday, is located at Latta Nature Preserve but isn’t affiliated with Latta Plantation.


“The Raptor Center deeply values the diversity of our community and stands in support of racial and social equity,” he center said. “Because we believe all people should have access to nature and outdoor activities, we invite you to connect with the natural world by visiting our facility no matter your racial background, ethnicity, nationality, gender identity, social class, or sexual orientation. Raptors don’t discriminate and neither do we.”


Officials in Mecklenburg County said via Twitter on Friday that the performances at Latta Plantation Nature Preserve, which among other things would have portrayed Confederate soldiers lamenting the downfall of the Confederacy, would not take place.


“We immediately reached out to the organizers and the event was cancelled,” the tweet said.


The county said it has “zero tolerance” for programming that does not represent equity and diversity. As a result, the county said it was reviewing its contract with the facility vendor regarding future programming.


A screen grab from the museum website showed people were invited to the one-night event to hear stories from a “massa,” or an actor portraying the owner of an enslaved person during a time when federal troops were pursuing those who owned slaves.


Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles tweeted late Friday: “We should not support any business or organization that does not respect equality, history, and the truth of the African-American people’s journey to freedom. Despite intent, words matter.”


She added in a separate tweet of the June 19th anniversary that it should be “honored in the most humble way possible, with laser focus on the perspective of the inhumane treatment of an enslaved people.”


While the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in the South in 1863, it wasn’t enforced in many places until after the end of the Civil War two years later. Confederate soldiers surrendered in April 1865, but word didn’t reach the last enslaved Black people until June 19, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to Galveston, Texas.


The plantation and museum is described on its webpage as a circa 1800 living history museum and farm, once the site of a cotton plantation. It offers educational and school programs featuring animals, workshops, camps, and reenactments, and the grounds include a carriage barn, cabins, and outbuildings.


In 2009, three Black students from a Union County elementary school were chosen out of a group on a field trip to the plantation to portray slaves, angering parents and leading the school to cancel future field trips to the site.


Tom Foreman Jr. of The Associated Press and Herbert L. White of the Charlotte Post contributed to this report.

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