Stagville: Black & White
“These images aim to remind us that every day we live on a foundation built by those who preceded us—and that at present we are leaving our own legacy for future generations.”
— Dr. Brenda Scott, Photographer
About the Exhibit
Throughout its existence, the area called Stagville has borne witness to numerous historic scenes. Located approximately 10 miles north of downtown Durham, NC, it has seen travelers use a nearby Indian trading path, the arrival of European settlers, and subsistence farming before the American Revolution. Stagville beheld its rise as the largest plantation in North Carolina and as home to about 900 enslaved people—and the richest man in the state. The locale also experienced the eras of emancipation, sharecropping, and growth of big tobacco companies. Today, the area is open to the public as a state historic site, Historic Stagville. Although focused on one site, this exhibition aims to inspire viewers to think about places in their own communities and to view them through a different lens—consider the places’ beauty, the resilience of the surviving architecture, and the stories of the people who lived there. The exhibit conveys the direct connection of people today with people from the past and demonstrates the importance of preserving and protecting historic sites such as Stagville.
Exhibition Dates and Venues
This exhibit was designed and first exhibited at the North Carolina Museum of History* in Raleigh, NC. Emily Grant spearheaded the project and put together an outstanding team. I served as photographer and visiting curator. The exhibit opened March 2014 and ran through the beginning of February 2015. Following this it traveled to The Museum of the Cape Fear in Fayetteville, NC, where it was shown through December 2015.
The exhibit materials are now part of the Brenda Scott Arts Collection at Wilson Library at UNC Chapel Hill. At this time the materials are still being cataloged. They include the final framed prints, the exhibit text, and the working digital images of the exhibited photographs and outtakes.
*The NC Museum of History is a Smithsonian Affiliate.
The History of Stagville
On the eve of the Civil War, the North Carolina Bennehan and Cameron family plantation holdings figured among the largest in the South. By 1860 approximately 900 enslaved people worked the nearly 30,000 acres, with Stagville resting at the land’s heart. Earlier, Richard Bennehan’s 1776 land purchase from Judith Stagg had given Stagville its name. Bennehan’s daughter married into the Cameron family, and the land remained in Cameron hands through the early 20th century. In 1954 Liggett and Myers Tobacco Company purchased the land, donating Stagville to the State of North Carolina in 1976. Historic Stagville opened as a state historic site in 1977. Today, the historic site consists of three tracts comprising 165 acres and is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday.
In 2011 I began a photographic study of Stagville. At first I worked exclusively with the buildings, but one day I met a Stagville descendant and was inspired to learn about the site’s people. I began photographing descendants and collecting their ancestors’ images, which I rephotographed in the places where they had spent their lives. By considering people from Stagville's past and working directly with their descendants, I am making a visual connection between ancestor and descendant, between past and present. The more I work at Stagville, the more I become aware of stories that will never be told, particularly about the lives of the enslaved population. As a result, my images reflect an interest in the documented facts about Stagville, as well as my desire to show people the untold stories that seem to echo in the spaces at Stagville—places where people lived, loved, and died. By causing viewers to wonder about these lost stories, even if I cannot tell their specifics, then perhaps I have brought back some measure of what might have been and honored the memory of these otherwise undocumented lives.
I gratefully acknowledges the following individuals and institutions for their assistance with this exhibition.
George & Sue Neece
Rev. Jesse and Mrs. Janice Alston
Glynn & Kay Wise Denty