A series of wedding planners across the US have removed plantation houses from their list of suggested venues, after a racial justice organisation complained that hosting a wedding at a slavery site was “inappropriate and disrespectful”.
Over 40,000 lavish plantation houses were built in the South before the Civil War, and many of them have since been turned into guesthouses, museums or events venues.
Actors Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively married at a South Carolina plantation house, Boone Hall, in 2012, and their popularity as wedding venues has increased.
In October the campaigning group Color of Change wrote to a five wedding planning websites and urged them to no longer feature vendors who advertise former slave plantations.
“Because these plantations are the sites of former forced labour camps that brutalized and murdered millions of black people in this country, marketing them as wedding venues is inappropriate and disrespectful to their descendants and to their communities, many of whom use your services,” the organisation wrote, according to a copy of the letter obtained by Fox News.
Arisha Hatch, the vice president of Color of Change, told the channel that they objected to the language used to describe the venues.
"Charming, elegant and sumptuous are just a few of the phrases that the wedding industry uses to describe the places where black people’s ancestors were tortured and stripped of their most fundamental rights,” she said.
“It would be a great sign of social responsibility for these platforms to rectify how they feature plantations as wedding venues.”
Three of them – Brides.com, Pinterest and Zola – have since announced they are no longer promoting plantation house weddings, and two – Martha Stewart Weddings and The Knot Worldwide – said they are weighing up Color of Change’s argument.
“You have a multi-multimillion-dollar industry that makes money off of glorifying sites of human rights atrocities,” said Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change.
“For us, that’s outrageous.”
Approximately 12.5 million people were kidnapped from their homes in Africa and shipped to the New World from 1514 to 1866, according to historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. Most were sent to South America, and one in eight died en route.
In 1860, the Census counted approximately four million enslaved people in the United States, according to PolitiFact.
Plantation house owners expressed dismay at the decision.
Willie McRae, the owner of Boone Hall near Charleston – where Reynolds and Lively held their much-criticised weddings – said all were welcome to celebrate at his historic property.
“We don’t care what colour you are; everybody is welcome here,” he told The New York Times.
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“We’ve had black weddings, interracial weddings, same-sex weddings.”
He said that Boone Hall was a beautiful place, and that he could not understand why Lively and Reynolds were criticised.
“We’ve been a farm for 300 years; I don’t want to make anything racial out of it.
“There were bad acts that happened on some plantations, but not all plantations. This was one of the first ones that taught slaves to read and write.”