It was good to learn that the Charlottesville-based Virginia Humanities organization has created virtual tours of the living quarters of enslaved people from the state’s past and made them easily accessible on Google Street View.
The virtual tours open a window on an often hidden, but nonetheless important part of history.
“You can’t discuss Virginia’s history without talking about slavery,” said Peter Hedlund, executive director of Encyclopedia Virginia, a program of Virginia Humanities. “When we started to produce virtual tours of interiors using Google’s platforms, we saw an opportunity to document slave dwellings. We proposed it to Google during a conference in California, and they were on board.”
Virtual tours actually provide better access than physical tours could do, at least at this point in time.
Many of the dwellings are on private property and not open to the public.
Many are in poor shape (built to house the enslaved, they are not of high-quality construction), and could actually be dangerous to visit.
And that sobering fact hopefully will lead to the next logical step: preserving the buildings’ physical presence for future generations.
In total, it would be a huge undertaking; but if preservation were taken just one step at a time, it could be manageable. In any case, preservation would have to be tailored meet the individual demands at each separate site.
We hope this idea catches the imagination of other Virginians, who will devote their money and expertise to it.
The slave dwellings — some dating all the way back to the 1700s — are vulnerable to loss. Yet they embody an important element of the state’s history. That history is worth saving.