Ani DiFranco has now canceled a songwriting retreat she’d planned to hold at what was once one of the largest slave plantations in the South.
DiFranco initially intended for the four-day “Righteous Retreat” to be a songwriting and artistic creativity workshop that would open up dialogue about the location in which it was held in. The site, Lousiana’s Nottoway Plantation and Resort, serves now as a museum, and somewhat questionably states the following on their website: “Ever the astute businessman, Randolph [Nottoway] 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.”
Upon learning of the retreat, and its association to the plantation, feminist blog Jezebel spoke out against the site choice, reporting its owner to be Paul Ramsey, an Australian known for donating millions to his country’s anti-gay and anti-abortion Liberal party. A petition created on Change.org, for DiFranco to cancel the retreat, quickly picked up 2,500 signatures.
In response, DiFranco has written the following on her website:
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 believe that people must go to those places with awareness and with compassionate energy and meditate on what has happened and absorb some of the reverberating pain with their attention and their awareness. I ask only that as we attempt to continue to confront our country’s history together, let us not forget that the history of slavery and exploitation is at the foundation of much of our infrastructure in this country, not just at old plantation sites. Let us not oversimplify to black and white a society that contains many many shades of grey.