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Slave Dwelling Project to visit Southwest Mississippi

NATCHEZ — Joseph McGill, founder of The Slave Dwelling Project, will visit Natchez this week and on Thursday evening and Saturday evening present programs about his nonprofit organization dedicated to the identification and preservation of structures in which enslaved people lived.

At 6 p.m. Thursday at the historic house Longwood, McGill will share his experiences at Thomas Jefferson’s homes Monticello and Poplar Forrest, James Madison’s home Montpelier, and the experience of standing on the auction block at Seward Plantation in Brenham, Texas. The presentations will include a gumbo dinner and cash bar. The cost of Thursday evening’s presentation is $5 per person.

McGill’s experience includes positions as a field officer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, as executive director of the African American Museum located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, as director of history and culture at Penn Center, St. Helena Island, South Carolina, and as a park ranger at Fort Sumter National Monument in Charleston, South Carolina.

One of the ways McGill brings attention to the need to preserve slave dwellings is by spending the night in them and conducting educational programs. The dwellings he has visited range from churches, public sites and private properties. He also invites members of the public to join him in friendly and honest conversations about slavery at that site and how the lives of the enslaved can best be memorialized.

Friday night, McGill will visit Prospect Hill Plantation in Jefferson County for a sleepover. Members of the public are invited to attend. A $5 charge will cover the evening meal and breakfast the next morning at Prospect Hill.

“I encourage people of all races, especially African Americans, to visit sites that once engaged in enslaving people,” McGill said. “The fact that African Americans have a tendency not to want to visit these sites, gives the stewards the unchecked opportunities to interpret these sites as they wish.”

Then at 6:30 p.m. Saturday McGill will return to Natchez for another ticketed event at Concord Quarters, the house of Deborah and Gregory Cosey. Cost of the evening event is $25 and will include dinner and opportunities to tour the Cosey’s house and learn about the former residents of Concord and the slave quarters.

Southeast Regional Director for The Archaeological Conservancy Jessica Crawford said it was important for McGill to visit Mississippi’s most historic city.

“I participated in one of Joe’s sleepovers at Charles Towne Landing, and we slept on a replica 1700s schooner,” Crawford said. “It was a great experience, and I’ve learned about the importance in telling the complete, honest and sometimes not-so-pretty story of sites where people were enslaved. I know from our work at Prospect Hill that it’s important to have a structure present, or the story is often forgotten.”

The Archaeological Conservancy is the organization responsible for preserving Prospect Hill Plantation in Jefferson County.

“We don’t have an extant slave dwelling at Prospect Hill, but we do have foundations of them on the site, and I feel sure enslaved people spent a lot of time inside the house, especially the three basement rooms,” Crawford said. “So I thought it would be fun to have a Slave Dwelling Project sleepover at Prospect Hill.”

Those who want to participate can contact Crawford at tacsoutheast@cableone.net, or at 662-326-0025.

“All you need is a sleeping bag, pillow and an adventurous spirit. An air mattress won’t hurt, either,” Crawford said.

Prospect Hill will also be open on 9 a.m. to noon Saturday for people who want to visit and meet McGill but aren’t up for the sleepover.

For directions to Prospect Hill, call Crawford or check the Prospect Hill Plantation Facebook page. www.facebook.com/prospecthillplantation/

For tickets, to Longwood or Concord Quarters, Contact Natchez Pilgrimage Tours at www.natchezpilgimage.com or by calling 601-446-6631.