Would you sleep in a building that once housed slaves? That was one of the many questions discussed during last Friday’s Cliveden Conversations series when Joseph McGill spoke about his overnight stay at Cliveden’s servants’ quarters. The Cliveden overnight was part of McGill’s ongoing Slave Dwelling Project. To date he has slept at over 20 sites in 6 states.
McGill, a program officer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, began the project in 2010 because he felt that many historic sites failed to tell the full story of the slavery experience. “For me, the story is behind this house, the slave dwellings that exist behind it.” At Cliveden, he expected a noisy night, but slept easily on the first floorwith a sleeping bag and a pillow. The next day he explored the rest of the house.He also praised Cliveden for going in the right direction by highlighting the slaves whohelped the Benjamin Chew, who built the home in 1767, and his descendents make their fortune.Executive Director David Young said that one of Cliveden’s goals is to embrace blackhistory and to challenge people to understand more about themselves and their own country.McGill’s talk kicked off Cliveden Conversations, which is in its second year.The conversations started off as the Cliveden Institute, a training program for tourguides that was eventually opened to the public. The lecture format was changed toinclude audience participation, said Rick Fink, education director. “We didn’t talk at people. We gave people a chance to converse. The change has brought us a new audience.”The crowd of about 60 divided into five groups to discuss the topic. When Tom Gordon, who led the question-and-answer discussion, asked the crowd how many would sleep in a slave dwelling, about half raised their hands. Some felt that people needed to know the good, bad and ugly of Cliveden’s history. Audience member Regina Wright would not sleep in a slave dwelling. She described herself as “too soft” for the experience.Wright learned of the event through the West Central Germantown Neighbors, and wasat the conversations for the second time. Just like the first time, she said, the speakerwas engaging and interesting. The event ended with the crowd being invited to look around the servants’ quarters. There will be two more speakers scheduled this summer.