The National Register of Historic Places lists more than 95,000 sites that are important to the story of the United States. Register entries often ignore the topic of slavery or mention it only in passing, an Associated Press review found.
Many famous historic sites such as George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello home avoid the details of their slave ownership.
Lesser-known plantation homes in the rural South such as The Whitney, which documents slavery at a pre-Civil War plantation near New Orleans, its entry in the National Register, completed in 1992 before the current owner purchased it, doesn’t mention the slaves who were housed there.
The same can said for Magnolia Grove, a state-owned antebellum plantation home dating to 1835 in Greensboro, Alabama, has a slave cabin that tourists can visit, plus displays about enslaved people, yet its 1972 entry on the National Register doesn’t mention slaves.
The state-operated Kingsley Plantation near Jacksonville, Florida, was home to slaves, yet its National Register entry doesn’t say who they were or how they were forced to work.
Visitors to Mount Vernon or Monticello in Virginia can now hear stories and see exhibits about slave life, but those features were added long after the landmarks became some of the first sites listed in the National Register.
Congress established the National Register of Historic Places under a 1966 historic preservation act aimed at coordinating preservation work and highlighting the nation’s most historic sites.
Along with bragging rights, a listing on the National Register can help property owners financially. More than $160 billion has been invested in preserving 44,000 historic places nationwide under a tax credit program approved in 1976, according to the National Park Service, which oversees the program.
Property owners, local groups and government agencies nominate sites for inclusion on the National Register, noting architectural features, historic significance and other information. State preservation offices review the nominations and submit them to the Park Service for a final decision.
Those nomination forms, available on government websites, make up the bulk of information that’s publicly available about places listed on the register, the Park Service said. And they often ignore the enslaved people who provided the labor on antebellum plantations.
With hundreds of old plantations listed on the National Register and many preservationists focused on saving endangered sites rather than updating information about existing ones, rounding out the history of antebellum farms could take years.