Weekend Getaways: Charleston, South Carolina, Grapples With Centuries of Slavery

A plantation tour can be an uncomfortable experience. But McLeod Plantation Historic Site is trying to connect people to the lives of the enslaved.

Laura Arenschield
Slave quarters at McLeod Plantation

A plantation tour can be an uncomfortable experience. Grand homes built by people who were forced—brutally—to construct them. Wide, sprawling fields, where crops were planted and harvested by people who were forced—again, brutally—to grow them. The knowledge that you might not be getting the whole story, depending on who is doing the telling.

Charleston, South Carolina, has spent years grappling with this reality. Six plantations still exist in the area, and over the last few years, as police killings of Black people prompted long-overdue debates about racism in the United States, the people who tell the stories of those plantations have begun to focus—rightly—on the people who were forced to build them and work the land.

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The site that has perhaps done the best job of this is McLeod Plantation Historic Site, a 37-acre former Sea Island cotton plantation on James Island. McLeod opened in 2015 as a museum that focuses on the lives of the people who were enslaved there. Some 63 names of those enslaved people are listed on McCleod’s website and noted throughout the plantation’s grounds; the cabins where those enslaved people lived still stand on the site and are open to tours.

The curators’ efforts have paid off: Visitors hear profound and transparent stories about the lives of enslaved people at McLeod, and often connect those stories with the lives of the Gullah Geechee, the descendants of West Africans enslaved by Europeans and others to help build what would become the United States. The Gullah Geechee remain important people to the culture of the South. In 2019, McLeod Plantation was named an International Site of Conscience, a designation given to museums and sites that connect historic brutalities with human rights issues today.

Find more Weekend Getaways:12 Great Direct-Flight Vacation Destinations From Columbus

Flights from Columbus to Charleston

Breeze, two weekly flights; United, seasonal summer service; Allegiant (from Rickenbacker Airport), two weekly flights; all airlines fly to Charleston International Airport.

This story is from the October 2021 issue of Columbus Monthly.