What to See—and Skip!
Mount Vernon's all-white conference, the 1619 Project, and more
Wait, so Thomas Jefferson wasn’t “in the room where it happened?!” I’m going to get to the bottom of this tomorrow night at the Gotham Center for New York History.
Mount Vernon, George Washington’s former plantation and forced work camp, is throwing an all-white symposium this weekend. (The two white women are conveniently staff; less effort than finding unaffiliated scholars, which describes many of the other participants.)
In February, I wrote about Mount Vernon’s whiteness (see “on a related note” at the bottom), and nothing seems to have changed since then:
Until 2019, no Black people had been named research fellows.
The senior staff is white.
Interpreters (tour guides) are mostly white, as are the people who appear in photos on the website and social media, with the exception of reenactors who play enslaved people.
The curator of an exhibition on slavery is white, as is the rest of the curatorial staff.
It is not uncommon to see entirely white panels, symposiums, or discussions on slavery occurring exclusively between white people.
23 out of 24 members of the Ladies of Mount Vernon, the board who calls the shots, are all white women. (A seat on the board is by invitation only.)
This lack of diversity would be problematic for any organization or nonprofit, let alone a former plantation. Although enslaved people made up 90% of the population of Mount Vernon at the time of Washington’s death, the modern staff in no way mirrors that makeup.
“You’re going to be in here regurgitating Gordon Wood” are fighting words in 2021.
Here’s the latest on the 1619 Project:
The Massachusetts Historical Society just hosted a debate between white historians Gordon Wood and Woody Holton. I wanted to put money on Holton, a historian who displays his chaotic good on Twitter every day, but nobody took me up on the wager. I should have gone directly to Wood, who later claimed he was somehow “blindsided” by Holton during the debate. In an interview afterward, Wood declared it “a disaster,” and one observer described the vocal 1619 opponent as being “reduced to defensive sputtering.”
This month, Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson published Born on the Water, a middle-grade picture book based on the 1619 Project. Hannah-Jones, the project’s creator and recipient of the MacArthur “genius grant,” will also expand the work in “The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story,” publishing on November 16.
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