Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Slave Dwelling Project

Today a colleague at work shared a copy of Smithsonian Magazine with me that a volunteer had brought in. In this particular issue was a story by Confederates in the Attic author Tony Horwitz about Joseph McGill and his Slave Dwelling Project.

For the last few years, McGill, who works for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, has been spending nights in former slave dwellings all across the United States (i.e. North and South) in an effort to draw attention to the need to preserve these structures.

In the magazine story McGill, who also reenacts as a 54th Massachusetts soldier, mentioned that he has been in both dilapidated and luxurious slave quarters. Some have had holes in the walls and roof and have dirt or pine board floors, while others have air conditioning, plush carpet, and flat screen televisions. And, while a number of slave quarters (especially urban dwellings) have been converted into apartments and guest houses nicely furnished as described above. However, the majority are endangered structures that are falling down and being removed from the landscape as development projects encroach in many rural areas.

McGill believes that if these buildings disappear, so does a part of the slave story. I totally agree. It is great to know that someone is putting so much effort into trying to save these once essential structures. I have often pondered making an attempt to photograph and thus document the surviving slave quarters here in Kentucky, but, it seems like an almost overwhelming endeavor. McGill's attempt to wake people up by sleeping in these historic buildings and thus bring attention to the importance of preserving the dwellings has made me again see the worth and necessity of such a project.

McGill has a Facebook page that you can "like" to keep up with his preservation initiative. And, here is a You Tube video about one of McGill's overnight stays. Please find a way to share his story with someone you know and help get the word out.


  1. wonderful. thank you for this. Joe McGill is the bravest man I know..

  2. If you know where there are slave dwellings in Kentucky, Joe (and his friends) could be convinced to come sleep overnight in some of them, and help with your interest in preserving them.