By Eric Frazier
A Union County school has vowed never to send its children back to Latta Plantation after an African-American tour guide picked three black students out of a mostly white group to help re-enact the lives of slaves.
Plantation officials say there was no malicious intent, but they will always ask for volunteers in the future.
The controversy flared after fifth-graders from Rea View Elementary in Waxhaw traveled to Charlotte last Wednesday to visit the historic cotton plantation and living history farm.
About 60 were listening to a talk about the Civil War by veteran presenter Ian Campbell. As part of the talk, he also discussed slavery and the different types of work slaves did.
Latta Plantation Executive Director Kristin Toler said that as he talked about field hands' work, he called up three helpers, all African-American.
He had one girl hold a burlap bag on her shoulder, Toler said, but didn't ask that girl or the others to simulate cotton picking or any other slave work. In retrospect, she said, he should have asked for volunteers. That will be the rule for all such talks in the future.
Luann Ingram, a spokeswoman for Union County Schools, said the three were the group's only black students.
“We just thought that was terribly inappropriate,” she said. “I don't think any ill will was intended at all. It was just a bad decision for him to have made. It was an uncomfortable situation for our children and our staff.”
No disciplinary action will be taken; Toler said she didn't feel Campbell did anything wrong beyond failing to ask for volunteers. She said she didn't know anyone was upset until one of the children's parents called the next day, expressing anger.
“If the girls that were picked to come up felt uncomfortable, of course we feel horrible,” she said. “We would never do anything to dehumanize or humiliate students.”
Campbell continues to lead presentations at the plantation; Toler said he is one of Latta's most popular guides.
Campbell said he agreed with Toler's account. He added he was fed up with what he called lies spread by the media, and didn't want to address it further.
Toler said one media account asserted that the plantation hung a bale of cotton around a child's neck.
“I'm sick of it,” Campbell said. “As far as I'm concerned, I've moved on.”