The Joel Lane Museum House in downtown Raleigh is where one of the state's most prominent families lived, sipping tea from expensive china and overseeing an empire of 6,000 acres.
It is also where slaves cooked and scrubbed and worked the fields – but that gets scant mention at the privately owned museum.
Those who run the Lane House, like the leaders at many of the state's historic plantations, are uncomfortable talking about the practices that allowed wealthy owners to prosper. A new study from East Carolina University shows that, at many North Carolina plantations, talk of slaves takes a backseat to discussions of architecture, furnishings and gardens.
"It's a hard thing to talk about, because there's very little good you can say about it," said Belle Long, curator at the Lane House. "It's just awkward. It's such a black period in our history."
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Long said she added a few mentions of slavery to the house tour last year. Before that, it was never mentioned to visitors.
According to the study, which examined the Web sites of 20 North Carolina plantations, seven don't mention slavery in their promotional materials. Only three were making strong efforts to reflect the slave experience.
"These plantations were not just about their white owners," said Derek Alderman, a geography professor who led the study. "As we come to terms with the legacy of racism in the United States, we have to recognize, whether we like it or not, that there was brutality that happened in the old South."
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