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National Park's 'Slave for a Day' Event Draws Outrage

"Just a glimpse of the hard work, being out in the heat and sun."

Image source: historichampton.org

"Work in the fields with actual hoes and scythes."

"Carry buckets of water with a yoke on your shoulders."

Want to be a "slave for a day"? You can at a national historic site in Maryland at a special event next month.

That was at least the idea until this week, when the Hampton National Historic Site in Towson, Md. raised plenty of eyebrows for the name of its July 8 program: "Slave for a Day."

Park ranger and event organizer Angela Roberts-Burton told the Towson Times the name was meant to draw attention and get people to come to the one-day program at the site, located in Baltimore County.

“By no means am I trying to, or are we the Park Service, trying to assimilate the atrocities that slave African-Americans endured,” Roberts-Burton said. “This is just a glimpse of the hard work, being out in the heat and sun,” she said.

The name certainly drew attention, including from the Baltimore Fishbowl blog, which noted not only the title, but the "awkwardly jaunty tone" in the event announcement.

"Hampton promises to let kids '[e]xperience what it may have been like being enslaved. Work in the fields with actual hoes and scythes. Carry buckets of water with a yoke on your shoulders!'" blogger Rachel Monroe noted. "It’s that last exclamation point that really pushes it over the edge for me....Some things are too profound to playact."

Roberts-Burton told the Times she received more than 50 calls and emails about the title in just two days, prompting a fast name turnaround: It was changed Tuesday to "Walk a Mile, a Minute in the Footsteps of the Enslaved on the Hampton Plantation," and the description was changed to remove the exclamation points.

“We didn’t want people to be upset because of the title of the program,” National Park Service ranger Vincent Vaise, who oversees Hampton and nearby Fort McHenry, told the newspaper. "But we want people to see the purpose of the program, to tell the story and empathize with people of that era.”

Anthony Fugett, vice president of the Baltimore County chapter of the NAACP and nearby resident, told the Times he supported the spirit of the event but said the initial title was a problem.

“The event was well-intentioned, but the name may have been inappropriate, and I’m glad to see they changed it,” Fugett said.

Roberts-Burton said she still has the backing of the National Park Service to continue with the event, and noted the park's website says, "Black History Month is every month at Hampton."

“People who are complaining about this are people who don’t even come here," she said.

One last thing…
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