A personal account from a visit to Charleston…
I was on the edge of my seat, ready to take photos of the beautiful, old houses in Charleston. To my surprise, I put my camera down after about 10 minutes into the 1.5 hour Charleston historical tour. I wasn’t sure if I wanted photos to remember what I was learning. Heavy hearted is the best way to describe how I felt.
I like to think I’m fairly knowledgeable about people and cultures. But I was astounded by how little I know about the details of my country’s past during a recent visit to Charleston, South Carolina.
As our tour guide took us through the streets of Charleston, he taught us about the people who occupied the neighborhoods of the past. “This is where the African slaves lived on this street,” he would say, “and this is the location of one of the many burial grounds.” He also showed us a building left from one of the country’s oldest “industries” – a brothel in the then German neighborhood.
We toured a historical home where a plantation owner once lived. The guide explained that slaves ran the house, they did everything from cooking and construction to caring for the children. They lived in the upstairs of a back house. When they entered the main house, they were only allowed to use the back, plain staircase instead of the grand staircase in the center of the house. The enslaved individuals helped make the family wealthy but received nothing in return. They were treated like animals in the backyard.
As we exited the historical home, the Garden Club was there taking measurements for Christmas decorations. As I walked by one of the Club members, she said to me: “Come back in a month and it will be even more beautiful!” It took all I could to resist saying back to her, “Yes, the architecture is beautiful. But why are you glorifying a house where more than half of the people in it were owned by the masters of the house?” I let it go…I didn’t know her story.
I walked away from the Charleston historical tour sad about a past that can’t be changed. I wondered if it’s better to remember or to tear down reminders of the past. I couldn’t answer that question. I took out my camera again for a little while at the end of the tour, as I contemplated these questions. But wondering which photo might be best for Instagram didn’t last long.
I was quickly faced with the reality that our past is deeply rooted in this country. We drove by the church where the mass shooting happened in Charleston in 2015. Our past quickly bumped into the present. What motivates people to do horrific acts of violence against other people? I couldn’t answer that question.
Heavy hearted is the best way to describe how I felt.
I wanted to share this personal story with you. It’s not meant to be political, but instead a vulnerable look at how I felt that day. And I encourage open, inclusive conversation around it.
Travel isn’t always about beautiful beaches or mountaintop adventures. Meeting new cultures face to face, learning about the past, listening to others opinions and ideas, and realizing how we can all impact our present is a major part of travel. Creative Travel Connections exists to make this world a better place through travel, creativity, and connections. I hope you’ll join us on this life-long journey.
And lastly, Charleston is a beautiful city filled with amazing people who do great things in our world! Go visit! I learned so much and can’t wait to go back in April.
~ Julie Slagter