As a history lover, I fully understand the desire to immerse yourself in the longstanding monuments of the past. However, there is one commonplace in American society, particularly in the American South, that is just puzzling.
Americans from sea to shining sea appreciate a good party, and there is a never-ending list of reasons to celebrate. However, one of the stranger locations frequently used for receptions, balls and weddings is historical plantations. Thomas Jefferson’s childhood home and former plantation, the Tuckahoe Plantation hosts about two weddings annually. Morally, there is no absolute about a celebration at the plantation being right or wrong, but let candid facts stand.
Plantation homes are only a small sliver of the larger plantation system, and a hollowed version of said history. Those plantation homes were financed and furnished by the institution of slavery.
The plantation homes themselves were attended to by the slaves who the plantation owners deemed worthy of working inside. However, this is typically not generally acknowledged when an arbitrary event is held there. Rather, the focus is placed on the beauty of the home.
The plantation home is as beautiful as it is old. It is questionable if it makes sense to have people throw parties in the halls of an American antiquity. When a museum holds receptions, it makes sure the artifacts and exhibits are secure from any potential destruction by attendees. Would it not make more sense for people to just admire a plantation home on a tour as opposed to exposing the home to arbitrary guests? I digress.
Furthermore, the demographics of the guests should be analyzed, if only to prevent a comically ironic situation from occurring. If a fraternity or sorority is predominantly white, it’s probably best to schedule the event somewhere other than a plantation home. It’s probably not ideal to see a historical recreation of the Antebellum South for a spring formal.
If you happen to be rich, it is probably also best if you opt to hold your event elsewhere, since the Plantation South held a rigid class structure that aimed to keep plantation owners wealthy and everyone else financially inferior.
Many plantation homes are privately owned. The free market dictates that people can do what they wish with their private property, including renting it out to guests. If the guests do go and admire the beauty, potentially sparking a greater interest in American history, then maybe the frequent receptions are worth it.
The only exception to this standard would be if the event planned had some historical significance and relationship to the plantation home. For example, Mt. Vernon in Virginia is the former plantation home of President George Washington. If a historical society was having an event based on Washington, then it would be understandable to use the plantation home for the event.
However, holding a social function at Mt. Vernon, or any other plantation, for the sake of having pretty scenery overlooks the plantation’s historical significance.
If we are aiming to rebrand the modern plantation home as something new, while still respecting the history of the establishment, then let the future decide how that movement will go. But with a past of slavery and a complex history worthy of the greatest museums, you must admit, throwing a party there is kind of strange.
Brett Landry is a 20-year old mass communication senior from Bourg, Louisiana.