New tour highlights slaves’ importance to Belle Meade Plantation’s success

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The story of Belle Meade Plantation and the African-Americans enslaved there has been told countless times, but no one tells it like Brigette Jones. 

“Our goal today is to actually take a walk in their shoes for just a little while,” said Jones, who is the Director of African-American studies. 

At the height of enslavement, 136 men, women, and children lived at Belle Meade in cabins. Visitors can see the original cabins on Brigette’s iPad. 

“We’re going to go from what were the slave quarters up to the mansion. We’re not going to go through the front door, because that was not the door they used.  We’re going to go through the back door.  We’re going to take the servants stairs and the servants entrances and to all the rooms we’re going to see today.” 

What visitors see on the tour hasn’t changed much over the years, but what they hear is different. 

“In the last two or three years, there’s been an institutional mind shift to celebrate the heritage of African Americans on the site and not be afraid to explore the difficult parts of that story,” said Rachel Gibson, Vice President of Operations for Belle Meade Plantation. 

Brigette says family letters reveal little about their views on slavery, but other documentation showed a fierce fight to preserve their way of life. 

“Second generation owner William Giles Harding goes to prison for six months in 1862.  He’s charged with treason for a very substantial donation to the South’s cause at the time.” 

For nearly a century, African-Americans helped transform Belle Meade from a 25-Acre plot into a 5400 Acre enterprise specializing in thoroughbred racehorses. 

“So the people that would have worked for them would have worked in those industries.  They would have been hostlers and jockeys and horse trainers,” said Brigette. 

The most famous was Robert “Bob” Green. Considered an expert in everything related to the thoroughbred. The head groom’s cabin remains on the grounds today. 

“I am honored to be able to tell the story of those people who sacrificed so much so I can stand where I stand today.  There would be no African American Director of African American History had it not been for their sacrifice on this plantation,” said Brigette. 

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