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Slave Dwelling Project Offers an Immersion in Enslaved Experience

Van Cortlandt House, a two-story historic home of light brown bricks and soft blue roof, with historic slave dwelling behind.

Please note that this programming series was cancelled due to the outbreak of COVID-19. HHT hopes to reschedule when it is safe to do so.

NYC’s first opportunity to spend a night in historic slave quarters will provide a chance to experience firsthand the deprivations of enslaved populations, while also exploring the lasting legacies of slavery and addressing the need to create a more inclusive narrative of our nation’s history. The Historic House Trust of New York City (HHT) is honored to be the first to bring African-American historian Joseph McGill to NYC to present a campfire conversation and sleepover in the recently-reopened slave quarters at the Van Cortlandt House Museum (VCHM) in The Bronx. Hosted on March 13th, this program will allow representatives from local historic sites and cultural institutions to engage in an honest conversation on slavery and the challenges faced in presenting these complicated narratives to the public.

McGill, a Civil War reenactor and descendant of slaves, has hosted similar sleepovers in 25 states as part of the Slave Dwelling Project (SDP), the initiative he founded. SDP’s mission is to raise awareness and organize resources to preserve, interpret, maintain, and sustain extant slave dwellings. SDP engages diverse audiences by conducting programs, presenting lectures, and facilitating open dialogue about slavery, race, racism, and racial equity. The ultimate goals of their efforts are improved racial relations and a shift in how American history is told. SDP’s signature overnight stays bring attention to the harrowing existences of enslaved people in a physical way. The sleepover at VCHM will be NYC’s first such experience, and will foster the examination of the region’s unique history of slavery and complement the museum’s ongoing research into enslaved Africans' contributions to the economic success of the plantation and the city as a whole.

This program is part of the larger series commemorating HHT’s 30th anniversary, Places That Make a Difference: Conversations on the Future of Our Cultural Treasures, which creatively explores challenges that historic sites share and inspires further innovation in the cultural sector. Related programming includes an upcoming panel discussion on March 12th entitled Places That Unite: Creative Tools for Telling a Fuller Story. Co-presented by and hosted at the Black Gotham Experience, Places That Unite will bring together scholars, practitioners, and performers to discuss and demonstrate how marginalized stories can begin to be told in meaningful ways.

HHT's Executive Director John Krawchuk notes that the organization is “proud to be hosting these powerful programs via the generosity of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Arthur F. & Alice E. Adams Charitable Foundation. HHT and its 23 sites are devoted to interpretation, programming, and exhibitions that incorporate more inclusive voices, address complicated histories, engage diverse communities, and reshape New Yorkers’ collective understanding of history, society, and culture. These efforts to continuously evolve the historical narrative will result in enhanced learning at these portals to nearly 400 years of heritage and provide inspirational models that can guide other historic sites that strive to broaden the stories they share."

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