The Airbnb listing was simple: a charming Mississippi cottage with old-fashioned decor and access to Wi-Fi and streaming platforms. Offers in Louisiana and Georgia had similar descriptions, portraying them as charming, rustic homes, perfect for a cozy weekend getaway.
However, the now-deleted lists had one important thing in common: they were once home to those who had been enslaved.
Recent outcry over the listed slave cabins began with the Panther Burn Cottage, a slave cabin in Greenville, Mississippi, built on a plantation in the 1800s. Wynton Yates, a black New Orleans lawyer, posted a now viral TikTok about the Airbnb ad late last month. He said he was shocked when he saw the offer. “My first reaction was, ‘This is wild! How does anyone think this is okay?’” Yates told NBC News. “I was shocked by what I saw. It’s just disrespectful to all the people who lived and died in those spaces.”
Airbnb has since apologized and removed the listing in Mississippi and all others “known to include former slave residences in the United States.” But the incident has renewed conservationists’ concerns about the condition of former slave homes in the country. Preservationists such as Joseph McGill Jr., founder of the Slave House Projectsay that the commercialization of plantations has been going on for decades.
‘I have come across slave houses with many uses, such as rental spaces, sheds, man caves, garages. I’ve even come across one used as a public toilet of all things! said McGill. “I have been doing this for 12 years and what has happened is nothing new. What’s new is that TikTok exists now, and there’s such a thing as cancel culture.” McGill added of those who own such rental properties, “In their minds and in their eyes, they’re not doing anything wrong.”
History vs Aesthetics
The Historic American Building Survey, a federal conservation program established in 1933, lists more than 400 slave houses in the United States. But over the decades, several slave homes have disappeared, been demolished or turned into bed and breakfasts, offices, garages, etc. Saving Slave House Project. In some cases, residents are unaware that the small buildings on private property were once slave residences until Hill informs them, they told Atlas Obscura. And long before Airbnb started listing slave cabins, the houses served as rustic cottages for travelers. For conservationists, this is yet another example of people taking advantage of the ills of slavery, but for some travelers, the site’s history is exactly what draws them to stay.
One person who stayed at the Panther Burn Cottage last October left a positive review of the listed former slave cabin, according to the Airbnb site, writing that the location made them feel like they were “stepped back into history.”
“This place was so beautiful and peaceful. We stayed in the cabin and it was (sic) historic yet elegant,” the user wrote, adding that the “cabin was stocked with everything we needed and more.” The reviewer said they would recommend the cottage and look forward to visiting again and staying in the main house on the plantation.
In Virginia, the Prospect Hill Plantation Inn offers lodgings in 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 workers.” A reviewer who stayed in the slave quarters of Prospect Hill in 2014 praised the inn on Tripadvisor for its ‘amazing history’ and said the site’s antiquity contributed to ‘the plantation’s charm’.
“We spent the night in Uncle Guy’s attic, where slaves apparently lived during the cold winter months. At first, given how old the plantation is, the place would be a bit scary and I would be up all night and not be able to sleep,” the guest wrote. “However, the loft is actually quite cozy and I wasn’t really scared when I got into the room – it doesn’t exude a scary vibe but actually more of a cozy vibe – kinda hard to get into such a (sic) old place.
The reviewers did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News.
In 1985, the original owners of the Prospect Hill Inn, Bill Sheehan and his wife Mireille, boasted of: The Washington Post about renovating the main house and the former slave quarters, installing everything from air conditioning to bathrooms, but maintaining “its original character, including fireplaces and porches.”
“So we found this dilapidated old plantation and threw every cent of our savings and all the borrowed money we could find into it,” Sheehan said at the time.
Meanwhile, other plantations allow people to spend the night in some of the buildings, but draw the line at slave homes. At the Wilton House Museum in Hartfield, Virginia, up to six people are allowed to rent the main house and are invited to: use the slave quarters of the plantation “To think about what it must have been like to live and work in this space almost 200 years ago.” A spokesman said the cabin is not equipped for overnight stays.
In Louisiana, Destrehan Plantation serves as a museum, with tours, exhibits, and educational programs. The plantation owners offer overnight stays at the ‘Marguerite’, a slave-era plantation named after an enslaved cook. Tracy Smith, executive director of the Destrehan Plantation denied claims that guests can rent out slave quarters on the property. “We have slave huts here, but they’re part of our tour. And we take that very seriously,” Smith told NBC News. “We’ve never rented slave cabins on Airbnb or any lodging option before.”
Hill, who is building a database of slave homes in the US, and McGill have focused on documenting slave homes across the country. McGilli recently visited slave quarters at the Neill-Cochran House Museum in Austin, which museum officials discovered in 2016 and determined to be the only “intact and publicly accessible slave residence within the boundaries of the original Austin city site.”
Rowena Dasch, executive director of the Neill-Cochran House Museum, said she initially thought the small stone building was a general addition to the Neill-Cochran House built in the 1850s, but soon realized that it was because of its size. and the lack of slave quarters must have been. of amenities. She then teamed up with Tara Dudley, an assistant professor at the University of Texas, to learn all about the property. They discovered the stories of those who lived in the neighborhoods or worked near the property. The museum has since partnered with the university to launch “Reckoning with the Past: The Untold Story of Race in Austin,” a project to restore the slave quarters and create a more historically accurate exhibit, with guided tours and other programming to explore the Share the building’s connection to slavery in Austin.
Dasch said she wasn’t aware that travel sites like Airbnb featured slave homes, but wondered if it would be possible to convert these spaces into rentable properties while preserving the historic integrity of the home.
“If this was a slave house, it was completed before 1865 and that means no plumbing, no electricity. Mostly it was one-room buildings,” Dasch said.
“So if you’re trying to rent that out today, you’d have to change that building to make it habitable for people with contemporary expectations. You lose the original context. I believe in adaptive reuse. I’d rather see structures turned into something functional than broken down. But marketing the space as ‘come stay in a slave house’ sounds so tone-deaf to me. What exactly are you trying to achieve with that list?”
For black Americans looking to trace their genealogy, slave quarters can be an important piece in family trees, largely stamped by the slave trade and systemic racism through everything from lack of registration to urban renewal. David Green, University of Virginia professor and amateur genealogist, could in 2020 to visit the house from his great-great-great-grandmother, Ann Redd, who worked on the property near Brownsburg.
Green said the old cabin, now on private property, was dilapidated and what he would expect from an abandoned slave building. He said he couldn’t imagine such a meaningful place turning into an Airbnb listing.
“I would have a problem with it. Especially if they fit the “antebellum, good South” theme,” Green said. “To say that someone rents out that slave house 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.”
In a statement to NBC News, Airbnb spokesperson Ben Breit said: “We apologize for any trauma or heartache caused by the presence of this listing, and others like it, and that we have not taken action before this. address the problem.” Breit added that the company is working with experts to develop new policies that tackle slavery lists.