Before Airbnb, Slave Cabins Were Still on the Rental Market

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Thibodaux, Louisiana/USA - December 28, 2006: The well preserved slave quarters at the Laurel Valley Sugar Plantation near Thibodaux, Louisiana, was used as a set for the feature film “Ray,” in 2004.
Thibodaux, Louisiana/USA - December 28, 2006: The well preserved slave quarters at the Laurel Valley Sugar Plantation near Thibodaux, Louisiana, was used as a set for the feature film “Ray,” in 2004.

The viral slave cabin listing on Airbnb was not the first instance where white people tried to profit off of these historic quarters. The founders of the Slave Dwelling Project and Saving Slave Houses Project told NBC News that commercialization of slave quarters has been an ongoing issue for decades.

As if white folks didn’t profit enough off the backs of Black people, now the very sites of the horrors of slavery are making them a killing. Joseph McGill Jr., founder of Slave Dwelling Project, told NBC the only new thing about this trend is that it’s coming into the public eye through social media.

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“I’ve come across slave dwellings with many uses like rental spaces, she sheds, man caves, garages. I’ve even come across one being used as a public restroom of all things!” McGill said. “In their minds and in their eyes, they’re doing nothing wrong,” he said of the rental owners.

In other instances, the owners didn’t even know these little structures were homes to enslaved people.

More on slave cabin commercialization from NBC News:

The Historic American Buildings Survey, a federal preservation program created in 1933, lists more than 400 slave houses in the United States. But, over the decades, several slave dwellings have vanished, been torn down, or turned into bed and breakfasts, offices, garages, etc., according to preservationist Jobie Hill, founder of the Saving Slave Houses Project. In some cases, residents aren’t aware that the small structures on private property were once slave dwellings until Hill informs them, she told Atlas Obscura. And long before Airbnb began listing the slave cabins, the homes served as rustic cottages for travelers. To preservationists, this is yet another example of people profiting from the ills of slavery, but for some travelers, the history of the site is exactly what draws them to stay.

In Virginia, the Prospect Hill Plantation Inn offers stays at slave quarters with names like “Boy’s Log Cabin” and “Uncle Guy’s Loft,” which is described as a small carpeted room that served as “the sleeping quarters for up to fifteen field-hands.” A reviewer who stayed in Prospect Hill’s slave quarters in 2014 praised the inn on Tripadvisor for its “amazing history,” and said that the antiquity of the site contributed to “the charm of the plantation.”

“We stayed in Uncle Guy’s loft for the night where apparently slaves used to stay during the cold winter months. Initially, given how old the plantation is, I thought the place might be kind of scary and I would be up all night and not able to sleep,” the guest wrote. “However, the loft is actually pretty cozy and I wasn’t really freaked out after I got to the room — doesn’t give off a scary vibe but actually more of a cozy vibe — kind of hard to pull off in such a (sic) old place.

To fight against the ignorance of slave cabin marketing, some people have taken it upon themselves to reclaim the properties and educate the public on what these “cozy stays” really are. Jobie Hill from the Saving Slave Houses Project is building a database of slave homes, per NBC. The executive director of the Neill-Cochran House Museum, Rowena Dash partnered with Tara Dudley, assistant professor at the University of Texas, to uncover the history of the slave quarters on the museum’s property.

At the end of the day, the same people who market or rent these properties simply don’t care about the historical context. Dasch said the trend is “tone-deaf.” A professor at University of Virginia, David Green, told NBC it’s “disrespectful,” given he was able to visit the old cabin of his great-great-great-great grandmother, Ann Redd.

“I would have an issue with it. Especially if they go with the ‘antebellum, good South theme. To say somebody’s renting out that slave home today without necessarily thinking about what it meant for that slave to be there … I’d say that’s disrespectful. I think it’s about respect, respect for my ancestors,” said Green.