Behind the Big House Project

Delve behind the hoop-skirts and mint juleps to the hard life behind the big house.

The south has a rich and varied history. The storybook life seen on the silver screen is often just one side of our past. Behind the grand mansions, beyond the freshly pressed linens, laid small and intimate slave dwellings where work, toil, and history also happened.

Many historic figures began their lives in these small dwellings such as Civil Rights icon and journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett who was born in Holly Springs a slave and freed four years later. She strove to give rights to women as well as end lynching and was eventually driven from the south to Chicago. During the Holly Springs Pilgrimage of Homes, April 7th-12th, visitors will learn much more about this human rights pioneer as well as our unique past in the Behind the Big House Tour.

In addition to touring five of the towns historic mansions included on this year’s Pilgrimage, guests will be allowed a rare look into the lives of Holly Springs’ slave population during the “Behind the Big House Tour.” Another side of antebellum life will be seen through these surviving structures with a historic interpretation by Joseph McGill, with the Slave Dwelling Project, formally a field agent with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Thanks to grant assistance from the Mississippi Humanities Council and Mississippi Development Authority/Tourism Division and sponsored by Preserve Marshall County & Holly Springs, Inc.: McGill will spend a few nights in Holly Springs’ slave cabins and then bring their story to life during the weekend long event.  “For so long folks have been visiting the plantation and going into the big house, and without those structures, the big house could not have existed,” says McGill.

New to the Tour:

Archaeological Digging
Dr. Carolyn Friewald, Professor of Anthropology & Archaeology at the Universality of Mississippi will conduct field studies of the domestic lives of slaves during the tour; particularly around the food preparation areas. The excavation will take place on the grounds of the Hugh Craft house to study the domestic lives and eating habits of the Craft family’s slaves and by association, the Crafts themselves.
Culinary Interpretations
Michael Twitty, culinary historian and interpreter studies antebellum cooking methods and ingredients in a given historical context to recreate the blending of African cooking traditions and what was native to the land. Twitty will discuss the cooks of antebellum kitchens; and enslaved people’s cabins for their unique role in giving the South her mother cuisine. Twitty will conduct food demonstrations throughout the tour.
2015 Tour: 

*All quarters will be available to tour unmanned during the entire Pilgrimage but see schedule below to meet Joe. For more information on Joe’s project go to www.preservationnation.org.

Wednesday, April 08th:

  • 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM – Craft House: Set up for Michael Twitty & excavation squares; All day: School groups at the Magnolias (orientation); Burton Place (Joseph McGill); Craft House (Michael Twitty)
  • 12:00 PM – Lunch break
  • 7:00 PM – Michael Twitty presents at Southern Foodways Alliance at Center for Southern Studies in Oxford.

Thursday, April 09th:

  • 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM – All day: School groups orientation at Magnolias: Burton Place (Joseph McGill); Craft House (Michael Twitty)
  • 12:00 PM – Lunch break

Friday, April 10th:

  • 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM– All day: School groups orientation at Magnolias orientation; Burton Place (Joseph Mc Gill); Craft House (Michael Twitty)
  • 12:00 PM – Lunch break

Saturday, April 11th:

  • 10:00 AM– 12:30 PM- Joseph McGill at Magnolias; Michael at Craft House
  • 12:00 PM – Lunch Break
  • 1:00 – 2:15 PM – Michael presents @ Ida B. Wells-Barnett Museum
  • 1:00 – 2:15 PM – Joseph at Craft House
  • 2:30 – 4:00 PM – Joseph McGill at Magnolias & Michael Twitty at Hugh Craft House

Sunday, 12th April:

  • PMCHS Volunteers staff at the three tour sites of the program

Sponsored by Preserve Marshall County & Holly Springs, Inc., the Mississippi Humanities Council and Mississippi Development Authority/Tourism Division.

We hope to continue this project and begin open conversations about this shared history little hear about. If you wish to help, please email us at info@preservemarshallcounty.org.

*Historic photos courtesy of The Collection of Chesley Thorne Smith.

2 comments on “Behind the Big House Project
  1. Sylvia Teasley says:

    Where do you sign up, or buy tickets for the Behind the Big House tour? I see it mentioned on several websites, but no further schedule or info is given. Thank you.

  2. admin says:

    The Behind the Big House Tour is free thanks to a grant from the Mississippi Humanities Council. We hope to see you there!

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