Behind the Big House moves beyond the “Big Houses,” or stately historic homes, to explore extant slave dwellings and interpret the experiences of the enslaved people who inhabited them.
UAM’s Taylor House served as one such big house on the Hollywood Plantation, later known as the Valley Plantation, which once spanned more than 10,000 acres across Desha, Drew, and Lincoln counties. Behind the Big House included live historical interpretations and lectures to highlight the important contributions African Americans made to Arkansas’s history and provides a broad understanding of the importance of the living spaces of enslaved people and their role in heritage tourism. This year’s program focused on best practices for interpreting slavery at historic sites as well as researching the lifeways of African American farmers after emancipation.
On Friday, December 2, participants sampled cuisine prepared by Chef Jarita Frazier-King of the Natchez Heritage School of Cooking based on Black food traditions while rotating through interactive stations around the historic property. We also visited the Visitor Center where Dr. Matthew Rooney recognized some of the descendants of the Valley Plantation community. A lecture followed by Dr. Jodi Skipper of the University of Mississippi about reconciling slavery, race, and heritage in the U.S. South. Afterward, guests were invited to join a Fireside Chat with Joseph McGill of the South Carolina-based Slave Dwelling Project.
On Saturday, December 3, a half-day of programming included lectures at the Taylor House Visitor Center about the struggles of enslaved Arkansas women, the challenges of frontier life and use of wild resources among African Americans in Arkansas, and archeological investigations of the postbellum community at the Valley Plantation.
This project is supported in part by a grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.