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Saving slave cabins one night at a time

Posted by Patricia Borns  May 26, 2011 08:50 AM

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slave cabin project.jpg Joseph McGill is a man on a mission to rescue America's most endangered accommodations -- rural and urban slave quarters -- by sleeping in them. "I saw the desire wasn't there to put resources behind saving these slave dwellings. If they don't exist, the stories of their inhabitants will be forgotten," the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) program officer says.

Coinciding with the nationwide observances of the Civil War's 150th anniversary, McGill hopes his initiative, called the Slave Cabin Project, will awaken property owners to the importance of these buildings that might otherwise be demolished. "I've slept in 22 slave quarters so far, most of them privately owned. Often the owners become interested in restoring tthem once they realize their historical value," McGill says.

His most recent sleepover was at Willimington's Bellamy Mansion, a landmark in the Gullah/Geechee Heritage Corridor. "With a nice place like this, you could be easily lulled into a false sense of history, and overlook what?s in the back," McGill began his presentation to Bellamy attendees. What's in back is a rare urban slave quarter in process of restoration. New Englanders who've visited Royall House and Slave Quarter in Medford will find resonances here.

There's an almost feverish sense of urgency about McGill's awareness campaign, which he undertook on his personal time. "Slavery isn't a pretty subject. There's a strong tendency to deny it. I'll be doing this until."

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