Friday, February 3, 2023

United States: factory reconstruction emphasizes the past of slavery

There’s no painless way to tell the story of a massive brick structure being renovated into apartments in this central Alabama town, a factory that played a key role in the spread of slavery before the Civil War.

Built in the 1830s, the labor of enslaved black people helped make it the largest producer of cotton goods in the world, an innovation that fueled demand for even more slaves to pick the cotton that could be processed . Historians say.

A project to convert five historic factory buildings into 127 luxury homes has many people in the city of about 40,000 very happy that a local old building will be saved from demolition. The presence of new residents next year would be beneficial to the shops and restaurants on the Strip.

But at a time when debate is raging about how to teach history in the United States, the multimillion-dollar project also demonstrates the difficulty of telling the site’s complex history in a way that respects the past. does not raise the alarm of “against conscience”. social injustice” in a deeply conservative community.

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The transatlantic slave trade was outlawed in 1808, and slavery was already declining before Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin to separate the white cotton fibers from the seeds, making work much faster . The demand for unpaid labor skyrocketed, and thousands were sold to the plantations, where cotton seeds made growing cotton more profitable than ever.

Prattville’s namesake, Daniel Pratt, became Alabama’s first major businessman in this context, moving south from New Hampshire and starting a business producing cotton gin several years later.

Pratt designed the town where his company is located, about 15 miles (24 km) northwest of the state capital, to resemble the New England communities of his past. Along with material distribution in line with values ​​based on work, education, and faith, he got the workers to build a church, school, and shops near the factory. His tomb is located atop a hill overlooking the city, where he is revered as a paragon of virtue.

Slavery was always part of the deal, according to “Daniel Pratt of Prattville: A Northern Businessman and a Southern Town,” the most authoritative story on the subject, written by Curt John Evans.

According to the book, in 1837, Pratt used four enslaved mechanics as collateral for a $2,000 bank loan that would become Prattville to purchase 2,000 acres (800 ha) along Autauga Creek, later part of those marshes. Used more slave labor to clear the land.

Pratt intended to teach poor white Southerners the value of manual labor, which was generally considered the work of enslaved blacks before the South industrialized, and by the 1850s most factory labor was made up of white people. But when production slowed, Pratt replaced the overseers and bought experienced slaves to do the important work that whites did not do. Evans wrote that by 1860 Pratt owned 107 slaves. During the Civil War, he commanded an entire Confederate cavalry unit and was elected to the secessionist Alabama legislature.

Much of that history was included in the documentation that led to the Daniel Pratt Historic District being listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

Yet the new architectural development’s website mentions only snippets of history – and nothing about slavery – and the factory’s ties to slavery are rarely mentioned in the white-populated town. 75% and tend to vote Republican.

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Some people in Prattville have complained about the name of the new housing development – The Mill at Prattville (The Mill in Prattville) _, saying it was a factory, not a mill. Others argue that turning it into apartments is almost disrespectful to its history as a leading manufacturer of cotton goods.

His history of racial harassment hits harder than any other baggage.

Bill Gillespie Jr., 64, has lived in Prattville his entire life and has been mayor, but it got him noticed on a Discovery television show that aired a few years ago called “Mystery of the Abandonment.” The cotton gin factory and slavery, which the show exposed through video footage of the abandoned plant.

“I didn’t understand that link until I saw this,” Gillespie said.

Deborah Taylor Robinson, who is black and whose father and other relatives worked at the plant, said many people in the black community know about the factory’s link to slavery, even though the issue has not been discussed openly for years. Have been done

“I guess people just don’t like to talk about it,” he said. “People get stressed and nervous talking about it.”

Across a bridge from the buildings where workers are now installing walls and plumbing, the Prattaugan Museum—which combines the name “Prattville” and the county name, Autauga—contains a wealth of information about Pratt, the buildings, and the construction of the jeans. But it doesn’t focus as much on the ordinary people, black and white, working in the factory.

Betty Sharon Reed, who is black and taught history classes in the city for years before retiring in 2005, said Daniel Pratt deserves praise, but also recognized the enslaved people and other workers who built his business empire. The factory’s relevance to America’s bloody fracture during the Civil War deserves to be more widely known.

“More than one historian has claimed that, if it weren’t for the creation of the cotton gin, slavery would have become extinct. The way it happened, they needed more people to work the cotton. So what did they do? did? They got more slaves,” he said. “(At present) many people say: ‘It was not me, it was my ancestors.’ But that’s what happened.”

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Campaigning for re-election in a nine-way Republican primary that forced her to tilt to the right this year, Gov. Ivey made clear where she stands on adding new context about race and history to education Huh.

“We don’t teach our kids to hate,” Ivey announced in a television ad telling him to “stand up as (Donald) Trump”.

Ivey’s re-election with nearly 67% of the vote illustrates how difficult it can be to integrate the issue of slavery into a larger narrative of the buildings’ history, where the three-bedroom house will rent for $2,140 a month. Residents will likely include state and federal Montgomery workers, and if the area’s demographics are any guide, the majority will be white.

Despite a stormy history that included the birthplace of the Confederacy, white supremacist government, attacks by the Ku Klux Klan, and segregationist Governor George C. promoting black history and civil rights tourism, according to historian Brent Leggs.

Nationally, few, if any, commercial sites commemorate that aspect of history, said Leggs, senior vice president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and executive director of its Action Fund for Slavery. She remembers African American Cultural Heritage. Some of the old plantations are open for tours and programs, but very few acknowledge the slaves who lived and worked there.

Combined with Alabama civil rights sites and the National Lynching Memorial, this project could achieve something unique by taking a comprehensive approach, Leggs said: “This disparate crew and community have the wherewithal to innovate and set new examples for the rest.” is the opportunity of the nation.”

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Prattville’s mayor is among those who believe the factory’s story deserves to be told, even if it is politically thorny. Race is always a touchy subject, and some locals complained about the tone of the TV show, which Gillespie said helped him see clearly. “I don’t think we can judge the past based on the present,” he said.

The project’s developers at Envolve Communities LLC intend to display some historical documents, photographs and perhaps furnishings from the mill’s past, but whether they will address slavery or race is unknown, said Ashley Stoddart, the mill’s community manager in Prattville. Told.

Stoddart, a Prattville native whose grandmother once worked at the factory, said the focus so far has been on saving the structure, which closed in 2012 after the last owner outsourced workers to India. “It had animals living in it and trees growing on the roof,” he said.

Deborah Robinson’s husband, Robert Lee Robinson, who is black and came to work at the factory, hopes that the people living there will have a chance to learn more about the man who founded the town and the slaves who worked there. was the owner of

“They always talk about Daniel Pratt and what he did, but how did he do it? On whose back? Whose shoulders was he standing on?” she announced.

Nation World News Desk
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