Latta Plantation closed ‘until further notice’ following backlash over Juneteenth event

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. — The Historic Latta Plantation in Huntersville has closed its doors “until further notice” days after receiving backlash over a controversial Juneteenth event.

The event “Kingdom Coming” was set to include stories told from the point of view of a slave owner and his newly freed slaves. It was canceled after county and Huntersville town leaders quickly expressed their disapproval.

The town of Huntersville said funding for the facility is on hold, pending more investigation into the incident.

Mecklenburg County has had an agreement with Historic Latta Place to manage the Latta Plantation since the mid-70s. That agreement will come to end on June 30.

“It brings back a lot of hurt and rubs us the wrong way,” said Commissioner Vilma Leake, D-District 2, at Tuesday night’s meeting. “And in so rubbing us the wrong way, you want us to be right, and I want everyone to be treated fairly.”

Mecklenburg County announced the closure on Thursday.

“Over the next few months, we will evaluate the best path forward for Latta Plantation and its programming, ensuring that the site is utilized in an appropriate, forward-thinking manner,” said Park and Recreation Director W. Lee Jones. “As our review continues, we feel it is in the best interest of the community and the property to close for now until other plans can be announced.”

All previously scheduled and future Historic Latta Plantation programs and operations have been canceled, and the county said the house and grounds will remain closed until further notice. Latta Nature Preserve, Quest and the Carolina Raptor Center will remain open to the public.

Community activist Kass Ottley told Channel 9 she thought the Juneteenth event was a joke after seeing the advertisement for it.

“At first, I thought it was a joke,” Ottley said. “Then, I learned this was really real and thought ‘how disrespectful?’ Disrespectful, historically inaccurate, and then you decide you want to do it on Juneteenth to top everything else off.”

The event promised to tell stories about freed slaves from the perspective of a slave master. The event sparked outrage from the community and a records request revealed emails to Huntersville town leaders asking them to cut funding to the facility.

In a statement, town leaders said, “Funding for the new fiscal year will remain on hold pending further investigations into the facts” of the incident.

Latta Plantation’s site manager, Ian Campbell, issued a statement last weekend saying he takes full responsibility for the flyer, but that he would not be apologizing.

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“To the masses on social media and politicians, no apology will be given for bringing a unique program to educate the public about former slaves becoming free,” he said.

Ottley and other community members said they plan to protest this weekend.

“Saturday, we’re coming out here in unity and we’re coming out here to let them know this will not be tolerated at this time or any other time moving forward,” Ottley said.

The county also issued a statement saying it has zero tolerance for programs that don’t embrace equity and diversity.

Mecklenburg County said the group violated its lease with Historic Latta Place. The group was supposed to notify the county of events six weeks in advance.

When the lease is not renewed, the county will manage the site, which includes the animals on the property. In the long term, the county will look for a new third party to operate the grounds.

Channel 9 reached out to Latta Plantation for an updated statement, but has not heard back.

The county notified Latta Place of the lease not being renewed and the Park and Rec director said they wrote back, saying they understand. The group stands by their now canceled event.

Many wonder who, if anyone, will take over the site. It is also unknown if educational programs for the public and summer programs for kids will continue.

“They had groups of kids out there with Scout leaders having different activities,” customer Wanda Steinke said. “I think it should be maintained. They should get people who have a different agenda.”

County leaders said Wednesday they will consider contracting with another nonprofit or private company to manage the site. The time frame for reopening Latta Plantation is unclear.

They are also considering refunds for people who bought tickets for upcoming events.

That will be considered on a case-by-case basis in the meantime, leaders said.

Latta Plantation manager defends plans for canceled Juneteenth event

The manager of a historical museum in Huntersville is defending himself from criticism that an event he planned offered a sympathetic portrayal of slaveowners.

Ian Campbell, site manager of the Latta Historic Plantation in Huntersville, posted a statement Saturday on the plantation’s website saying that he will never glorify the Confederacy, white supremacy or plantation owners. He accused the media of a rush to judgment.

Latta canceled its Juneteenth program “Kingdom Coming” after complaints emerged about a promotion for the event. The event description seemed in parts to mirror the perspective of a re-enactor who says attendees “will hear stories from the massa himself” and offered sympathetic commentary about a white overseer who no longer had slaves to oversee.

The word ‘massa’ mocks the Black pronunciation of ‘master.’

Mecklenburg County and the town of Huntersville are reviewing their ties to the Historic Latta Plantation after the controversial event.

Ryan Pitkin with Queen City Nerve took screenshots of the posts on Latta Plantation’s website.

It said the event would talk about slaves and their reaction to getting their freedom, but that it would also include the impact on slave overseers losing their jobs, “white refugees” who were displaced, as well as Confederate soldiers returning home after the war.

Campbell, who is Black, said the event was canceled out of concern for staff safety.

Juneteenth commemorates the tradition June 19 date of the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States.

The county confirmed that Parks and Recreation was not aware of the event until it was posted on social media.

It said it reached out to the organizers and canceled the event.

The county is now looking at the contact with the facility vendor. Mecklenburg County commissioners have added a discussion on Latta Plantation to Tuesday night’s agenda as well.

The Huntersville Board of Commissioners is withholding funding for the new fiscal year as it investigates the program.

Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles also released a statement about Latta Plantation’s event on Twitter:

“On June 19, 1865, known as Juneteenth, 250,000 enslaved Black people were declared free be executive decree. That day should be celebrated and honored in the most humble way possible, with laser focus on the perspective of the inhumane treatment of an enslaved people.

“We should not support any business or organization that does not respect equality, history, and the truth of the African-American people’s journey to freedom. Despite intent, words matter. And the Historic Latta Plantation should know better.”

Historic Latta Plantation issued the following statement regarding the Juneteenth event:

“I, Ian Campbell, as an American man of African descent and the new site manager at Historic Latta Plantation, will lift the veil of ignorance. Under my leadership, the Latta staff will assist in this educational endeavor. With the little information that we have about Latta Plantation, also known as Riverside, the stories of those enslaved as well as freedmen will be told. This new narrative will also include the stories of other enslaved men, women, and children on many other plantations in the United States. It will also include the stories of those enslaved and free before, during, and after the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican American War, the American Civil War and Reconstruction.

“For decades Historic Latta Plantation has been focused on two time periods in American history, the American Revolution and the Civil War. That is changing, Latta will now focus on the period of reconstruction as well. Most people have forgotten about this period in our American history. Most educators as well as most of the general public skip this section and move on to the 1900′s or the civil rights movement. Many of the racial issues that we face today are linked to slavery and reconstruction. Just recently, for the first time in their lives, many people just acquired knowledge of the Tulsa Race Massacre. History is not just about one-time period or one group of people. The program “Kingdom Coming” was created by myself, with the help of others. I, Ian Campbell, Site Manager of Historic Latta Plantation take full responsibility for its content entirely! To the masses on social media and politicians, no apology will be given for bringing a unique program to educate the public about former slaves becoming FREE!”

To read the full statement, click here.

(WATCH BELOW: People across Charlotte, nation celebrate Juneteenth)