Feminist icon Ani DiFranco is known for standing up for the rights of the oppressed, so more than a few eyebrows were raised when she announced “Righteous Retreat,” a songwriting retreat to be held at a former slave plantation outside New Orleans this June. The Daily Dot rounded up some of the criticism of DiFranco on the event’s now-deleted Facebook wall, which include at least one comparison to hosting an event at a concentration camp site. Several outraged voices pointed to Nottoway Plantation’s casual attitude toward its history of slavery; the official website boasts of owner John Randolph’s kind treatment of his slaves:
Ever the astute businessman, Randolph knew that in order to maintain a willing workforce, it was necessary to provide not only for his slaves’ basic needs for housing, food and medicine, but to also offer additional compensation and rewards when their work was especially productive. Every New Year’s Day, John Randolph would give the field slaves a hog to cook and the Randolph family would eat with them in The Quarters. There would be music and dancing, and the Randolphs would give the slaves gifts of clothing, small toys and fruit, as well as a sum of money for each family. In addition, the workers received an annual bonus based on their production.
In a blog post Sunday, DiFranco announced that the retreat would be canceled, claiming that she had not personally chosen the location and that when she learned of its history, she had hoped it would be a conversation starter.
when i agreed to do a retreat (with a promoter who has organized such things before with other artists and who approached me about being the next curator/host/teacher), i did not know the exact location it was to be held. i knew only that it would be “not too far outside of new orleans” so that i could potentially come home to my own bed each night. and i knew that one of the days of the retreat was slated as a field trip wherein everyone would come to new orleans together. later, when i found out it was to be held at a resort on a former plantation, I thought to myself, “whoa”, but i did not imagine or understand that the setting of a plantation would trigger such collective outrage or result in so much high velocity bitterness. i imagined instead that the setting would become a participant in the event. this was doubtless to be a gathering of progressive and engaged people, so i imagined a dialogue would emerge organically over the four days about the issue of where we were. i have heard the feedback that it is not my place to go to former plantations and initiate such a dialogue.
Read DiFranco’s full blog post here.