“For me, Behind the Big House is as much about social justice as it is about teaching history. By building programs like this, we have the potential to show white communities how to be allies, how to listen, and how to do what is needed to bring about change AND provide tools to empower African American communities to remember and tell their own histories. But we can’t ignore the complicated history of race in this country to do it.”Dr. Jodi Barnes, Founder, Behind the Big House, Arkansas
Tours of historic Southern estates often begin with the grandeur and elegance of a mansion and its furnishings. Yet, of course, not everyone on the estate lived in the “Big House”: some enslaved people ate, slept, worked and raised their children in quarters separate from the main structure. Many of these slave dwellings are now in disrepair in rural communities, or hidden in plain sight in urban environments. Despite their conditions, they give deep insight into the lives of their inhabitants. Recognizing this, in 2012 the owners of one such estate, the Hugh Craft property, launched a program called “Behind the Big House” to assist historic property owners in and around Holly Springs, Mississippi, with educational programming about this neglected aspect of their estates. That demand has exceeded expectations, as Behind the Big House has sparked interest in historical sites elsewhere in the state and beyond.
“While a number of the silent witnesses – the structures directly related to the slaves’ accommodations were extant – the stories of the people who lived and used these buildings was largely being forgotten. The personal histories of the “Big Houses” had been preserved but what of those personal lives “Behind the Big House?”Jenifer Eggleston, Co-Founder, Behind the Big House, Holly Springs
Since 2012, Dr. Jodi Skipper has been working with Behind the Big House program founders to help interpret the histories of these sites. In 2017, she was awarded a Whiting Foundation Public Engagement Fellowship to help extend the reach of the program to a wider group. This website is one result of that work. It is designed to inspire others to build on Behind the Big House’s success, utilizing the expertise and lessons learned by the program’s creators and volunteers. It incorporates the Behind the Big House model developed by Dr. Jodi Barnes and her partners in Arkansas.
“Programs such as this take a small group of willing participants, who believe that those who may not have received equitable treatment in the past deserve it in the present.”Dr. Jodi Skipper, Partner, Behind the Big House, Holly Springs