Andrea Meriwether is a Bourbon consultant and curator based in Louisville who is working with Locust Grove on a number of projects, including the role of African Americans in farm distilleries like ours and interpretation of the enslaved community. Here are her words about tourism in historic spaces, the importance of building descendant communities, and the necessity of telling untold stories.
Historic spaces are the link to continuing vital descendant research into the slave experience and the building of American generational wealth. The preservation of said spaces has caused debate in recent years as the outcry of systematic and racial injustice rings throughout the US and abroad. Tour experiences have long lacked narrative inclusivity from the slave perspective. Leaving out an entire sector of tourist and new demographics from venturing to explore historic spaces throughout the US and abroad.
Even amid a tainted past, there stands an opportunity to repair and bridge the gap. As people of color continue their individual journeys of ancestry origin, historic spaces can open their doors to helping these descendants discover the missing information about their family heritage and identity. The more we promote new research findings, we can further develop the stories within these spaces and expand the narratives from the perspectives of everyone that inhabited the land and not just its white occupants. This effort will take everyone coming to the table to contribute to establishing narrative equity and inclusion for former slaves, enslaved descendants and slave owners of historic farms and plantations.
My great-grandfather told me before his passing that if “I’m going to tackle and explore the slave experience, I would have to follow the land.” This advice led me curiously to Historic Locust Grove where I was met by a team of energetic leaders and board members who have welcomed me with open arms and have become partners to addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion in historic tourism. While we have merely scratched the surface to building a descendant community and enslaved experiential narrative development for public tours, we have carved out a space of exchange to challenge our own perceptions and realities in a meaningful way as we develop programming that promotes advocacy and allyship. We walk and explore the grounds of Historic Locust Grove with refreshed intention and consider every research finding as a new piece of the puzzle to eagerly investigate.
Together we are preserving historic experiences from every perspective, lifting every voice, and acknowledging that as we raise and uplift the narratives and untold stories, we are uniting not dividing. Will people of color rush to former slave plantations and farms to visit? It may be a slow trek, but curiosity will be peaked that homage is being paid in an honorable way. Soon it will be safe to tread the land where our ancestors toiled, and real healing can begin to take place.
Celebrating our indelible feats should be all-encompassing. We must uphold the immense contribution not just some but all, as a hand cannot clap. We can no longer afford to keep mute and continue telling the safe stories. We must audaciously confront our fears with absolute courage. We owe the future generation a transparent report of how America was built. We must tell the story, all of it. We must preserve the undiluted narratives of the past, in order to value present progressions, and then only shall we be able to garner strength in unity, to build the future and history that we hope to be remembered for in historic places and beyond.