Photo: Henry P. Taylor
A historian and descendant of a slave owner from the “Promised Land” plantation in Gwinnett County has recently voiced concerns about a county official’s alleged attempts to whitewash the history of slavery at the former plantation. This dispute has led to a heated debate regarding the accurate representation of historical events and the need to preserve the memory of slavery. The historian’s criticisms have reignited discussions about the importance of recognizing and addressing America’s troubled past.
The Gwinnett County Recreation Authority is scheduled to discuss the Promised Land plantation amid accusations by historian Ruth Abram that a county official is attempting to diminish the story of slavery associated with the site. Abram, who is the great-great-great-granddaughter of Thomas Maguire, the former owner of the 1,000-acre plantation, had plans to develop a museum at the plantation house. However, her interactions with Community Services Director Tina Fleming soured her involvement in the project.
Ruth Abram expressed disappointment with Gwinnett County, stating that they are missing an opportunity to acknowledge an important chapter in American history. She believes the county’s attitude towards the project disregards the significance of black and white history in America. Unfortunately, Fleming was not available for comment at the time of this article.
The “Promised Land” plantation gained new significance in the 1920s when Robert Livsey, a Black man, acquired approximately 100 acres of the former plantation. Over the years, the Livsey and Anderson families transformed the land into a thriving Black community, with homes and businesses serving as a testament to their resilience and perseverance.
Gwinnett County had purchased the old plantation house and approximately 4.5 acres of land from the Livsey family, intending to create a museum and park to commemorate the area’s history. However, tensions arose when the county notified 92-year-old Thomas Livsey, Robert Livsey’s son, of its intention to acquire an additional 10 acres through eminent domain. After community resistance, the county recently sent a letter to the Livsey family stating they would no longer pursue acquiring the additional properties by any means.
In 2019, Ruth Abram offered to develop a museum plan for Gwinnett County. With her experience in founding the Tenement Museum in New York and the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, Abram proposed a comprehensive approach to honor the history of the Promised Land plantation. She conducted extensive research, including tracing the descendants of those enslaved by Thomas Maguire. Abram asserts that telling their stories is a form of reparation.
Correspondence obtained through an open records request reveals tense interactions between Abram and Community Services Director Tina Fleming. Abram accused Fleming of disinviting community leaders and limiting community involvement in the project. She also claimed that Fleming discouraged the use of the term “plantation” and failed to address the comprehensive plans proposed. Abram’s complaints prompted an investigation by the Gwinnett Historical Restoration & Preservation Board.
In response to the eminent domain controversy and Abram’s concerns, the Gwinnett County Recreation Authority has called a special meeting to discuss the Promised Land plantation. The meeting aims to address the ongoing debate and seek a resolution regarding the accurate representation of the site’s history.
The clash between the historian and descendant of the Promised Land slaver and the Gwinnett County Recreation Authority underscores the need for open and honest discussions about the history of slavery and systemic racism. Recognizing and preserving this dark chapter in American history is crucial for healing and fostering a more inclusive and equitable society in Gwinnett County, Georgia and the country. The outcome of the Recreation Authority’s meeting will play a significant role in determining the path forward for The Promised Land plantation and its historical significance. The Black Gwinnett Magazine supports the Livsey family wholeheartedly!