When residents and tourists visit sites of slavery, whose stories are told? All too often the lives of slaveowners are centered, obscuring the lives of enslaved people. Behind the Big House gives readers a candid, behind-the-scenes look at what it really takes to interpret the difficult history of slavery in the U.S. South. The book explores Jodi Skipper’s eight-year collaboration with the Behind the Big House program, a community-based model used at local historic sites to address slavery in the collective narrative of U.S. history and culture.
In laying out her experiences through an autoethnographic approach, Skipper seeks to help other activist scholars of color negotiate the nuances of place, the academic public sphere, and its ambiguous systems of reward, recognition, and evaluation.
“Behind the Big House has the heart of a gorgeous memoir and the bones of our most evocative scholarly texts. Jodi Skipper meets readers and monuments where we are, and chronicles superbly what it means to make, destroy, and really rebuild a region’s history. Stunning work.”—Kiese Laymon, author, Heavy: An American Memoir
“Skipper has illuminated for us one of the most pressing issues in American identity—how we reckon with our own original sin of enslavement. More than that, she’s illuminating a path to redemption lit by thoughtful engagement, open eyes, and open hearts. This book is the intersection of mindfulness and hope.”—Michael W. Twitty, James Beard Award–winning author, The Cooking Gene
“Part memoir, part communal autoethnography, part history, and all activism, Behind the Big House presents historic preservation as a form of memory activism. In Skipper’s telling, a local effort to preserve the legacy of slavery wends through classrooms, national nonprofits, ill-fitting academic benchmarks, and intimate friendships. Historic preservation—and Skipper herself—emerge as models for work in the public humanities.” —Dave Tell, author, Remembering Emmett Till
“Skipper’s book is a grassroots level journey into prioritizing the lives of enslaved people in historic preservation and historic representations in Holly Springs, Mississippi, and nationally. Behind the Big House is a hands-on research project and heritage tourism destination that has brought people together for impactful conversations about race.”—Antoinette T. Jackson, author, Heritage, Tourism, and Race: The Other Side of Leisure