November 16, 2020
Olivia Williams of McLeod Plantation: Fighting Racism & Building Empathy through Honest Educational Interpretation
Today’s guest is a part of a powerful movement to share the authentic, painful and real history of slavery at some of America’s most visited plantation sites.
Olivia Williams is a cultural history interpreter at McLeod Plantation Historic Site in Charleston, South Carolina. She’s been featured in the BBC, CBS News and the New York Times for her work and for shining a light on the awkward and uncomfortable questions posed by many visitors which underscore the lack of understanding of America’s slaveholding past.
This week on PreserveCast, we’ll discuss this critical work with a master of the trade.
MORE ABOUT THIS EPISODE’S GUEST
Olivia Williams began her work as a Cultural History Interpreter at McLeod Plantation Historic Site in 2016. At McLeod, Williams is a part of a team which interprets the history of enslaved people and the legacies of slavery. During Olivia’s time at McLeod, she’s had the opportunity to become certified through the National Association of Interpretation as a Certified Interpretive Guide. She earned her Bachelors in History and African American Studies from the College of Charleston and is currently pursuing a Masters of Arts in History with a concentration in Public History. During her time in this program she’s also served as a Graduate Assistant at the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture.
00:00:05.610 From the Preservation Maryland studios in the historic podcast district of Baltimore this is PreserveCast. Today’s guest is a part of a powerful movement to share the authentic, painful, and real history of slavery at some of America’s most visited plantation sites. Olivia Williams is a cultural history interpreter at McLeod plantation Historic Site in Charleston South Carolina.
00:00:31.820 She’s been featured in the BBC, CBS, New York Times, and others for her work on shining a light on the awkward and uncomfortable questions posed by many visitors which underscore the lack of understanding of America’s slave holding past. This week on PreserveCast we’ll discuss this critical work with a master of the trade.
Hey it’s Nick here with a quick reminder that preservecast is powered by Preservation Maryland a non-profit organization and we depend on your support to bring you this exciting content every week.
00:00:59.690 So please consider heading over to PreserveCast.org to make a quick donation. Every little bit counts. And while you’re at it, give us a five star review on your podcast app. Now let’s get preserving.
Olivia Williams began her work as a cultural history interpreter at McLeod plantation Historic Site in 2016. McLeod Williams is a part of a team which interprets the history of enslaved people and the legacies of slavery.
00:01:26.080 During Olivia’s time at McLeod she’s had the opportunity to become certified to the National Association of interpretation as a certified interpretive guide. She earned her bachelor’s degree in History and African-American studies from the College of Charleston and is currently pursuing a Masters of Arts and history with a concentration in public history. During her time in this program she’s also served as a graduate assistant at the Avery Research Center for African-American History and Culture. This is Nicholas Redding.
00:01:53.410 You’re listening to preserve cast and today we’re joined by Olivia Williams who is a cultural history interpreter at McLeod plantation. We’re so excited to talk with her. She has been quoted in some of the most prominent papers around the world about some of the work that she’s doing and the challenging issues associated with interpreting America’s slave holding past. But before we get started on all that I’d love to learn a little bit more about you where you grew up what you put you on this path to interpretation and telling these really really challenging stories perhaps the most challenging story that we can tell here in the United States.
00:02:29.170 So Olivia it’s great to have you. What do we know about you.
Well first thanks for having me. I’m really excited about it. Well I’m from Greenville South Carolina. If you’re not familiar with South Carolina it’s about three hours away from Charleston which is where I am now. I moved here to go to the College of Charleston in 2012. I have a bachelors in history and African-American studies. I’m currently in graduate school getting a master’s in public history.
00:03:01.690 So I’ve been at McLeod for actually four years just a few weeks ago. I celebrated four years of working there. When I graduated in 2015 I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was actually like oh I guess it’ll come to me eventually. I was working at Fort Sumter National Monument at the time. And McCloud actually opened in 2015 as the historic site that it is today. And so there was a pamphlet for it at Fort Sumter.
00:03:32.590 And when I looked into it they just happened to be hiring. I knew nothing about interpretation. I wasn’t even sure that’s what I wanted to do. But you know I’ll look into it. Here I am four years later.
So it worked out. So what were you doing at Fort Sumter?
So I actually worked in their gift shop and actually worked out on the fort. So I took a boat to work every day.
00:03:57.970 What an interesting and I mean also in terms of the history of slavery and the interconnection with the Civil War I’m sure working in a gift shop there you heard some interesting things we know that you hear interesting things at the plantations and we’re going to talk about those but I can only imagine the things you might hear at the the powder keg that set off the Civil War.
Oh yeah sure.
And I’m curious.
00:04:22.180 So you grew up in Greenville but but were you always passionate about history was it sort of baked into you or is it something you’ve come to I guess later in life as it is a maybe a difficult term because you’re not that old but has it come to you at this point or how did that all come about.
So I would say a combination of all of them. So my father is a historian. He’s actually been teaching history I think for over 30 years now so it’s always been a huge part of my life.
00:04:53.140 My mom would take us on family vacations and we would make sure we stopped at historic sites and battlefields and museums. So I’ve always loved it but I didn’t really find my passion for it until I actually got to the College of Charleston. Prior to that I actually wanted to be a nurse and I was dead set on being a nurse. I wanted to work in the delivery room. But as soon as I took an anatomy class I was like I don’t want to do that.
00:05:25.480 So I started taking history more seriously and I decided to declare my major in history and. That’s where the passion really started. But especially when I got to McLeod because I recognized that what McLeod is doing is not widely done and I recognize that the work we’re doing is extremely important. So I’m very happy to be a part of that. And it’s just fueled this passion in me.
00:05:52.660 That wasn’t previously there as strong but definitely has developed.
Well I’m sure your father cried happy tears when his daughter decided she was going to go into the family business.
Which is funny because he actually didn’t want to be a historian. He wanted to be a police officer. And when he was waiting to hear back in the police academy he’s like i’m going to do some substitute teaching and then History.
It’s a Williams family tradition.
00:06:22.600 We came across you on Twitter, where we’re all good preservecast episodes start, sort of exchanging things about you know different articles and you know as we follow it up you’ve been chronicled by some of the biggest newspapers and media outlets in the world. Right. Like that’s I mean I mean the BBC the New York Times. I mean what captured their attention?
00:06:53.380 How did how did this all kind of start?
So it actually didn’t even start with me. I’d say last year when one of my co-workers Paul, he actually was giving a tour and a woman from his tour did some research into our reviews on TripAdvisor, especially because if you want a good laugh, please go look at the movie about us on TripAdvisor, and this one woman visited I guess sometime before this particular visit and she gave us a really bad review saying that we’re not a real plantation in which she was just outraged that we talk about slavery.
00:07:36.580 So that tweet about that review went viral. And the Washington Post I believe is who picked it up and then it just started this like media storm about plantation weddings, about interpretation, about slavery, about all, i mean just not long after that BBC News reached out to McLeod and was like “Hey we we’re in Charleston doing a story kind of about the Washington Post story and we would like to talk to you about your experiences interpreting slavery.” And it just kind of took off from there. So that and then CBS News did a story about plantation weddings and the International African American museum that’s being built here.
00:08:27.160 So I got to be a part of that which was cool and then BuzzFeed News did one about weddings and then the New York Times for more recent events that are happening here in Charleston. And it’s just so, it’s so important to have these conversations.
Actually one of my background is I did run a historic site, a plantation site, and I was part of the first group of people who said we need to start talking about slavery and there it was not without contention.
00:08:55.690 And so in this article in the BBC you’re quoted as saying that and I’m going to put this in quotes here. So you know these are my words end quote “slavery was not that bad is probably the number one thing you hear on tours.”
So how do you even respond to something so unbelievably ill informed like what. And really like I mean I’m not like testing you on this but really you hear that you hear that often like that so it seems like a statement that would be like wow can you believe I heard somebody say this.
00:09:29.650 But you’re describing it as something you hear regularly like can you remember like it has happened in recent memory?
Yes. And not just me actually, my co-workers as well. There are many people especially in the first few years that I worked there. Even after my 45 minute, hour long tour, people would say, “Well so you’re saying slavery was really that bad?” And they would all always emphasize it like “was really that bad?”
00:09:57.040 I was like “Were you not listening for the last 45 minutes?” And my tour is actually focused on enslaved women. So I think that a lot of, especially women, find what I’m saying to be almost relatable because I talk about children as well. And so I talk about family, I talk about motherhood, and I think that it kind of strikes something in them that’s like, “Wow that could have been me, that could have been my children, that could have been me.”
00:10:24.340 And so I think instead of being receptive, they go to being defensive. And so their first mind is: “What are you sure it was that bad actually?” Just about a month ago I had a man, a white man, ask me, he said, “Are you, are you sure that women were getting raped as often as as you’re saying?” As he was like, “Was it really that common that enslaved women were being raped on plantations?”
00:10:54.110 I was like “yes, I’m not making that up at all.” But he was just so stunned by it as if like I was just embellishing it and funny enough his wife actually jumped in and was like “don’t ask her questions like that.” And it was really funny because that doesn’t happen much but yeah. But I just, I guess I didn’t understand what wasn’t clicking. I had been accused of embellishing my choice before this one woman. She was, irate.
00:11:21.930 She was screaming at me calling me a racist towards white women, just white women, and she was saying that I was making slavery sound worse than it was. And so it happens. Very often and sometimes people are just confused and defensive and somehow people are really angry and defensive.
00:11:41.930 So yeah and I guess I mean really maybe trying to figure out a positive way of putting a spin on this is that I guess it it underscores the need for individuals like yourself in places like McLeod to have these conversations because we always you know I feel like people always say we need to have a national dialogue and it’s like well what what does that mean. Right. And I think these dialogues have to happen in places as evocative as a plantation where you can actually have those conversations and you can push people on what it is they’ve been taught what they believe.
00:12:14.750 I mean it is as difficult, it is to hear this. Do you have some hope that because they’ve asked that question and because you’ve been able to answer it you are changing people’s perspectives?
Yes, I’ve definitely gotten more optimistic because, especially since everything is happening currently, I think that this conversation is becoming national. So I think, and I’d say in the last year, I am remaining hopeful that, coupled with what’s going on with my tour, and all the reading materials that people are, even if they don’t admit, are going home and saying like, “What she said really stuck with me and I kind of want to look more into that.” I am hopeful. There are even some reviews on TripAdvisor and Google that say that they’re just like “you know this tour was so eye opening when I got home I started doing this that and the third.” And we do offer a reading list to visitors for further research.
00:13:15.380 But then other people they completely shut down, shut us out. I can’t believe you talk about slavery, “This isn’t a real plantation.” We get called that a lot, that we’re not a real plantation, which I was like there were slaves here. They grew up cotton here. It doesn’t get much realer than that. But, I’d like to think we’re getting through to people but it’s hard to tell when they’re mad.
00:13:44.190 Well if you can remain optimistic in doing that I think anyone can. So why don’t we talk a little bit about McLeod. Just so people know what it is and tell us a little bit about sort of the interpretive methods that you use there. How does a visitor experience the story of slavery at McLeod. And I guess the broader history of everything that’s kind of transpired there how, you know, maybe paint the picture of, I’m a visitor showing up there. What kind of experience am I going to get?
00:14:11.670 So we have guided tours. We offer six. And what’s really interesting about McLeod is that every interpreter is different. So we all base our tours around slavery and its legacies, but we’re able to go at it from the topic that we are most interested in. So like I said, mine is about women and children. We have one about the Gullah-Geechee culture, reconstruction, food, community. I do a Christmas program about Christmas on the plantation. But for enslaved people, not the family. So if you take my tour at 9:30 and then you stick around for the 10:30 tour, you’ll learn about slavery in a completely different way. So we do that because we have a lot of repeat visitors but also for instance, two of my co-workers are actually descendants of the Gullah-Geechee culture, so they offer a tour from their actual lived experiences and their ancestors which I think is really cool.
00:15:08.790 But we also offer self guided so our way side signs are all over the property about a thirty seven acre site. We have an audio tour that’s available on the app for Apple devices that also does offer a really good narrative. We have original slave dwellings, original buildings, the house is actually the original McLeod 1854 house. So at this site there is a slave cemetery on site as well.
00:15:39.840 So there is a lot to experience but what we tell people at least pre coded is that the guided tour is the best way to experience the site.
And that’s probably, I mean that if that doesn’t come across in this interview, it never will. But I would love to go on a tour with you. So I think that would be very very interesting. So let me ask you this, a lot of plantations you show up to, even the ones of some of our most famous presidents, it’s the big house story of the family and then “oh would you like to learn about the slaves?” and you know people peel off like, “I heard about the one I came for.” How do you approach that? What’s the focus exclusively on the slavery story. Do you talk about the family? How do you mix that family into this conversation?
00:16:36.360 It’s funny you say that actually because just about every other plantation in Charleston at least was that I visited they actually make you pay extra for learning about slavery. Yeah. So that’s funny you said that but at McLeod. We don’t exclude the McLeod family but we actually make the house tours optional. And that that was kind of intentional. And actually the house is only self guided. We don’t offer any guided towards there on purpose. The House is also not furnished on purpose because we don’t want the focus to be on the material aspects but I know that at least from my tour I actually start the like the first five minutes of the tour with, “Ok, this is who the McLeod’s were. This is how it become the McLeod plantation. This is the McLeod house.” But once my introduction is over I actually say to people, “From this point on, we are only talking about slavery.” Where all you talk about is slave experiences and the legacies of slavery and I just go right into women their experiences the roles of enslaved women. and actually about a few weeks ago I had this family walk up late and I said, “just so you guys know, this tour is about slavery.” They missed my introduction and I said “this tour is about slavery.” And I said, “you know if you don’t want to stick around, I totally understand.” And they actually left. Once I told them what it was about, they they walked away and I told them, I said, “I’m not offended.”
00:18:02.670 I’d much rather you not be forced into something you don’t want to do but that that happens once people realize that we’re not focusing on families or gardens or hoop skirts and they really don’t want to be part of it. So we try to make sure we tie in the story of the crowds at least, at least for me, I’d say for like a context standpoint, right.
Yeah. And I’ve never, It’s fascinating, and I think it’s important because you know there’s enough places even in the Charleston area where you can get that other story if you want it.
00:18:32.630 So it’s not as if that story isn’t being told somewhere. It reminds me I have not been to McLeod, although I would love to go, but I have been to Whitney Plantation outside of New Orleans which is a very slave focused conversation. And, there are the big houses the last house that you visit, in the last place you visit, and it turns the feeling sort of on its head. Whereas previously if you go into the big house and how it’s so beautiful, it’s so this, and you’ve just gone through an hour and a half experience with the slaves of Whitney Plantation, and the big house all of a sudden doesn’t seem so beautiful it just seemed sort of obscene.
00:19:09.140 So I think you know the way in which people approach and visit these sites is so important. And I am curious what do you think about first person interpretation. Do you do that. I know there are sites that do first person slave interpretation. How how do you approach that? Is that something that interests you? And just curious your thoughts on that and maybe for people listening that is where people actually take on the persona of a person from the past and kind of speak as it as if they are that person.
00:19:40.130 So we don’t do first person at all we actually wear khakis and blue shirts and I’m actually very thankful for that. We’re owned by Charleston County Parks. And so I will say that does have a little bit to do with it as well. We’re not owned by like the historical society or a private foundation or anything. So we all wear the same uniforms as if we were at a waterpark or a dog park. But, I think there is a time and place for first person interpretation.
00:20:11.210 I say actually one of my really good friends works at another plantation here in Charleston. And he does first person interpretation as an actual blacksmith as an enslaved person at Middleton place. And he’s phenomenal and because he’s an actual blacksmith by trade. So it’s really kind of cool to see. But I do think that it’s all about how tactful you are about it. I think that some of it’s done well and some of it’s not, but I am glad that we don’t do it at McLeod because people are already so racist there without us being dressed up as the people that we’re talking about, that I am almost terrified to see what would happen if we were actually dressing up as enslaved people or 19th century Black people. So, I think it’s a really interesting perspective.
00:21:07.460 I think that that’s important for people to hear and I don’t think I even thought it that way and so that’s why we do this because it’s so interesting to hear from folks.
So why don’t we take a quick break right here and then when we come back maybe we can talk a little bit about sites that are thinking about this kind of interpretation and what advice and pitfalls you’ve seen and things like that. We’ll do that right here on preservecast.
100 years ago in 1920 the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was signed into law and officially granted 20 million American women the right to vote.
00:21:41.840 This mass expansion in voting rights was the result of generations of intense activism known as the women’s suffrage movement that has had a lasting legacy on the continued fight for equality in America. In recognition of the struggles and achievements of a once disenfranchised majority preserve cast is honored to share remarkable stories of suffragists within each episode this year. Beyond the Ballot is supported by preservation Maryland Gallagher of Julius and Jones attorneys at law and the Maryland Historical Trust.
00:22:11.000 To learn more about influential women past and present or to donate please visit BallotandBeyond.org. This week on Ballot and Beyond we’ll learn about Lola Carson Trax and Edna Story Latimer, Maryland suffragists that led a protest hike across western Maryland. Read by Casey Rone the primary researcher of Maryland’s historic context statement on the state’s suffrage legacy. Hiking for votes.
00:22:36.530 Lola Carson Trax and Edna Story Latimer politicking has evolved in many ways in the hundred years since the women’s suffrage movement. But some things haven’t changed. Suffrage is new that they had to keep the public’s attention in order to be able to make their case. Beginning in the 1910s women increasingly began to use their physicality to draw media attention holding swimming competitions mountaineering and planning suffrage pilgrimages or hikes. Suffragists on a pilgrimage would walk or hike a route that would allow them to stop and speak in many small towns.
00:23:09.260 The spectacle of a troupe of women marching into town was enough to draw a curious crowd and organizers knew that this was a successful way to get media coverage and talk directly with people in more rural communities that they would otherwise never reach. In Maryland, just government league organizers Lola Carson Trax and Edna Story Latimer began to plan a series of these pilgrimages around the state.
00:23:33.310 Trax was an experienced organizer who came from a labor organizing background with the Women’s Trade Union League and the wage earners suffrage League which had formed to address the lack of working class representation in establishment suffrage organizations. In June of 1914 Trax and Lattimer led a group of just government league activists on a two week hiking campaign through Garrett County. Their route began in Cumberland and included stops in grants Phil friends Bill Oakland Bloomington and many communities in between.
00:24:04.790 More than mere publicity stunts the hikes were carefully planned to recruit new supporters Trax explained in the Maryland suffrage news that as the hikers drew curious audiences each woman would be assigned a role to to hand out literature to to hand out membership cards and everyone to speak in turn. This strategy proved a huge success. The Garrick county hike earned the just government league over 800 new members. This experience had quite an impact on the suffragists as well.
00:24:33.980 Weeks spent hiking in the mountains was a major departure from the day to day lives of women who were chiefly office workers or homemakers. Latimer believed that the fascination of being out under the blue sky to hear the birds singing to see the beauty of nature and the feeling of fellowship that exists among us all were enormous benefits for women who had never previously spent much time in outdoor pursuits.
00:25:03.310 This is Nick Redding you’re listening to preservecast today we’re joined by Olivia Williams who is a cultural history interpreter at McLeod plantation. And before we took our break we were talking with her about the challenges associated with this really important work that she’s doing and what her and her colleagues are up against and how they interpret these stories.
00:25:24.400 And you know I think you and McLeod have obviously done some tremendous work to invest in these stories and to tell the history of slavery in a nuanced way, you’re describing how there are different tours and you can learn about different aspects of slave life and what happened on the plantation. But a lot of sites happen and you know some even I guess even in your backyard. What advice would you give to a site considering this but maybe the site that’s still worried about how best to proceed with this type of interpretation.
00:25:57.640 Do you have any advice or sort of experience with the things that you’ve learned along the way that you would want others to know?
I read this quote actually it was also in the New York Times article and this man he was saying that you may lose A few followers of your site of your museum if you do get into this new narrative but you could gain so many more people who are willing to learn and wanting and who can actually aid in your mission of changing your narrative and that quote really resonated with me so much because I was like “Gosh that’s so true.” So many people are worried about losing people or losing donors are losing these foundation members or whatever.
00:26:48.130 But what about the people who don’t want to come to your site because you’re not telling the whole history. I mean you could open this whole new door in this, you know, just welcoming these people in. So my advice would be to just from what I’ve learned at McLeod is, you’re going to reach some people. There are people who want to learn about slavery and there are people who aren’t. And you kind of almost, not to be kind of blunt, but you’ve got to not care just to be honest because people are either going to like you or they’re not. And that’s something that I had learned at McLeod because when I first started working there I took it very personally that people didn’t like what I had to say, that people were yelling or leaving bad reviews, or emailing my boss, but then I was like, “I can’t stop how people think.” You know? All I can do is do my job, to the best of my ability, and once I really like internalize that, I think I’ve even helped me do a better job and cannot care less about offending people, but caring more about educating people.
00:27:51.010 And if it gets through to them, great. If it doesn’t, like we talked about earlier, hopefully it’ll kind of hit them later and then they’ll think back.
So now in terms of building a bigger constituency and getting a different audience, do you find that more African-Americans are willing to come to the site because of that? I mean I imagine going as an African-American to a site that doesn’t interpret slavery and doesn’t talk about it, and talks about how grand the lifestyle of a plantation was, would be a pretty off putting place.
00:28:22.640 But if you’re willing to talk about that and the real authentic history that took place there is that, do you find that you have a more diverse audience as a result of that?
Yes. No I will say that we have seen an increase in African-American People of Color visitation, definitely. But it’s not always. The experience that always for me that I can say I expected some people are extremely relieved to see Black people working at the site learning this history from Black people. Some people are really emotional, some people are very smart. They’re still looking for put off by the fact that they are on a plantation. So the experiences I would say have kind of made me more aware of, of being sensitive. Actually I was just talking my boss about this, about how it’s hard when you have kind of a mixed crowd of people on your tour you’ve got to be aware of. You know this set of emotions versus this set of emotions and how it’s affecting those two groups definitely. Or it could be affecting them in exactly the same just from an emotional standpoint. Not for me. Like a lived experience standpoint.
00:29:49.390 And so I think that some people some African-Americans are very happy to see that we are doing this kind of truth telling, not whitewashed version, but then the other side of that is OK. They are telling this really difficult history. And it’s triggering. And it’s emotional. And then we kind of stop being interpreters and start being people who are empathetic people who are good listeners instead of them being listeners, we become the listeners.
Right. And it’s really made me just more aware of my role. And it goes so much more outside of interpretation and more just into being a human and just understanding people.
Well that’s powerful. And these are powerful places right. So that’s probably not surprising.
00:30:43.900 Speaking of which, know the conversation around these places and them being so evocative and so powerful, there’s also been a lot of conversation over the past several years about what’s the appropriate use of these places. And especially with regard to weddings. So I’m curious as someone who’s worked in this field for a while now and you’ve really got to know these sites and what they mean to people like you were just describing.
00:31:12.910 Where do you fall on that issue?
I think weddings at plantations are weird. I actually worked at McLeod one Saturday for a wedding. And I never did it again I didn’t work the wedding I was there during the day while they were doing setup for the wedding and I never worked another Saturday again actually. But last year McLeod made the decision to stop offering weddings. We don’t offer receptions either. We don’t offer bridal photo shoots either. So very relieved. That caused a lot of controversy because we are technically a county park so that was a really interesting transition. But that wedding I remember vividly. They were setting up a reception area beside slave cabins in kitchen and dairy and the fields were in view where cotton was grown and people were brutalized and murdered and out there you know. Working all day. And so it was it was hard. Not to mention it or be extremely disruptive while we were trying to give tours. I mean my boss actually walked over to them were like hey you know we’re actually open right and like we actually have a job to do. And I was very happy to see that but it was actually because of that that our rules changed and they actually made it. This was back in like maybe twenty sixteen twenty seventeen they made it to where nobody could start setting up for weddings until we closed. So that was a step at least in the right direction. And then finally they made the decision last year to just cut it all together and I was very happy. Because I just don’t, I don’t think plantations are a place of celebration. Also they didn’t really respect our site. I can tell that I used to work on Sundays. Pretty frequently and I can tell you that we got to work some Sunday mornings and there were beer bottles and champagne bottles and wine bottles and chairs and decorations just all over the site. And I’m like. If you’re going to have a celebration here that’s gross already. But at least clean up after yourself. But people just don’t respect first what we were doing and second, the site at all.
00:33:38.700 Yeah and I feel like we wouldn’t do this at other difficult sites right. You know even you mentioned earlier you would go to battlefields. I mean you know the National Park Service wouldn’t allow a wedding at Gettysburg because something very difficult happened there that you know deserves commemoration and reflection and confrontation but but not celebration. So yeah I think it’s just interesting to hear that from you.
00:34:09.390 So what sites are worth looking at? Who do you think is doing a great job in this area? I guess beyond McLeod and you know we mentioned Whitney obviously but I’m curious if there’s other sites beyond traditional plantation sites or or plantation sites that are worth taking a look at and should be commended? In terms of the way that they’re telling their slave history.
So I want to say Middleton place, but with an asterisk because it is not just because he’s one of my really good friends, but I’ve actually been to his programming before and at Middleton place, my friend’s name is Jamal, I told those first person, and he actually tells the story of the enslaved people at Middleton of the time period which is more 18th century and McLeod’s more 19th century. But he does programming about the enslaved people at Middleton. He actually was going to do one for Juneteenth.
00:35:11.250 So I will say that at least in regards to him at Middleton he is doing a fantastic job of keeping those names alive at Middleton of keeping those stories alive. So I had to think about well. I’ll, be honest I can’t think of people right off the top my head. I mean other than people, than the obvious like the Smithsonian, and stuff like that, I can’t really think of just anybody, oh actually I take that back, Monticello. Again, asterix because I know that cause she used to work at McLeod, so I know the work she’s doing. I know that. Her name’s Ashley when she got home Monticello she really hit the ground running and just trying to get the wheels turning on just evolving their interpretation especially with the inclusion of Sally Hemings and Sally Hemings house. And if I am not mistaken they turned that into some kind of exhibit.
00:36:10.900 So I know that she’s been doing an excellent job of interpreting that. From the enslaved perspective and not you know the narrative we typically hear about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings and she actually e-mailed me and asked me for sources about. Enslaved women. So that she could develop a women’s tour at Mount a chill which I’m like Oh. That to me this is groundbreaking because I’ve been the one to tell you and I know how they do things are typically do things.
00:36:39.830 So I will say that, you know, people our age are it seems are really pushing the envelope at these historic sites and really trying to do what we can to change especially sites like Monticello to push these narratives and to change the narrative as as best as we can. And it helps that it seems that the support is in place. I know at McLeod it is.
00:37:10.370 So. Those are two and again I’m a little biased because I know them but I know they do good work, but because of that I can speak very confidently that they’re doing a good job.
So you know and I think, you know, hopefully going back to something we talked about before where there’s, you know, there’s this moment happening right now because of I think maybe sort of this reckoning or this awakening to issues of race in this country that perhaps if we were to do this conversation in another five years you would be able to rattle off 10 or 15 more.
00:37:44.690 You know because there’s just this understanding that we have to do this we have to embrace this because we’re not telling the full history we’re just telling a little snippet of it. And I think the history is much richer when you tell the full story. So what’s next for you and where can people find you online and when can they come on a tour and where where are you headed next?
So I’m actually done with grad school in May.
So everybody wants to hire you.
00:38:14.420 Thank you. Yes please please hire me especially if anyone from the Smithsonian is listening to me. I am kind of thinking three different things right now. I would like to stay in the field that I’m currently doing some kind of education public programming interpretation. I’m also leaning towards a law school. I’ve really been looking into being a civil rights attorney but I also really like archives and being an archivist. So I’m also maybe thinking about in the next few years getting a master’s in library science. So those are kind of my three big goals right now. But at this present moment just getting to me I just started my thesis writing so that’s exciting. But as far as where to find me, find me at McCleod there on Tuesdays and Thursdays we do offer guided tours like I said we offer six a day. Starting at nine thirty and you can find all that on our website or Facebook page and I’m very active on Twitter which is where you found me. So I believe it’s “@OliveTheLights_. Like the Kanye West song. So, @OlivetheLights_. And I love interacting with people on social media, my Facebook page is just Olivia Williams.
00:39:41.470 And honestly if anyone’s looking to just get more like resources or anything Facebook is definitely the place. I share a lot of articles a lot of scholarly things just some funny things that happen at work. So yeah that’s I’m very active especially trying to just get the word out about the work we do at McCleod and the work that’s being done here in Charleston by other individuals as well.
Well you’re doing a great job because I don’t know anyone else who has gone into CBS News and The New York Times and The Washington Post and BBC and so if that was your goal you’ve you’ve done a good job of that.
00:40:17.300 So before we leave and I guess also if somebody from the Smithsonian is listening just get direct message her on Twitter, she’s ready to roll. So before we leave what is your favorite historic place or site beyond McLeod. Well we’ll give you a pass on that so you don’t feel like you’re betraying the current love. But beyond your current site, where?
Actually when you sent me the questions I was so excited about this question because there is one place in particular, I had two and hopefully it’ll come to me by the time I’m done tell you about this place, but number one, the Levine Museum of the New South it is in Charlotte. And I went there in 2018 and It was actually so phenomenal. I sent my resume to their executive director and was like I want to work with y’all like it was so well done. I mean I just, they had a whole exhibit on reconstruction which is currently my very favorite area to study. And they had an exhibit about the Black Lives Matter and the artifacts were incredible. And I mean the staff was amazing. So definitely if you’re in Charlotte, go to the Levine Museum of the New South. And I’m glad the other place came to me, Birmingham, the Civil Rights Museum, that’s across the street from the church that got bombed. I drove to Texas a few years ago, and I stopped in Birmingham, just to see that church and I visited the museum and It is so well done. I actually was moved to tears by the objects they have in that museum. It is unbelievable. And if you’re in Birmingham or passing through Birmingham I highly highly recommend you pay that museum a visit because it was one of the better museums I’ve been in. And of course, The Smithsonian. The African-American history museums, when they built it, I was there a few years ago and it was amazing.
00:42:21.140 I mean I’m going to have to go back because one day simply is just not enough, that I think I saw everything, but I don’t think I really saw everything so. But those two museums definitely I highly recommend.
And those are yeah, those are fantastic answers and that have never been mentioned before. And so we’ll definitely have to follow up on that. Well it has been an absolute pleasure to get the chance to talk with you. I will say selfishly for the field I hope you don’t end up becoming an attorney. I’m sure you’d be a very good one.
00:42:51.580 But we need people like you to keep telling these stories and I’m so excited to have you and thank you again not only for joining us but for all the great work that you’re doing out there.
Well thank you so much for having me. I very much enjoyed talking to you.
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