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First director of African American Studies at Belle Meade Plantation makes mark with tour

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As Brigette Jones walks the grounds of the historic Belle Meade Plantation, it’s not lost on her how unusual some may think it is that as an African American woman, this is where she chooses to work. At its peak, the plantation enslaved 136 people.

Jones graduated with a history degree from Tennessee State University and started working at the plantation giving tours.

“I gave costumed historic tours of a plantation home. It was the most interesting experience of my life thus far,” Jones said.

However, that only lasted a year before Jones realized she needed a change.

“I don't wanna keep giving these costumed tours at this house, not because I don't like history, but because I didn't want to only interpret the history of the slave owning family,” Jones explained.

She went back to school and got her Master’s in education. However, she realized teaching wasn’t her calling and began feeling the pull back to Belle Meade Plantation.

She reached back out and expressed the idea of starting a tour about the slaves at the plantation. She says that historically at plantations, the fact that these families owned slaves is often glossed over. They talk about how many slaves were at the home, but not about what their lives were truly like or who they were.

“They were extremely open to it which blew my mind because, of course, I'm thinking, ‘Alright I'm this little black girl working at this plantation, Lord you're gonna have to be with me here, how much of the truth do you want me to tell?’ and they pretty much were like ‘Do your thing,’” Jones said.

She started the “Journey to Jubilee” tour. It’s an in-depth tour that takes you through day to day life the slaves lived. It covers what their work life was like, what rules they lived by, what punishments were like, how they were sold, beaten, and even raped. It’s an emotional tour for most.

“I think the emotion of the topic is what makes people realize that this was a human experience,” Jones said.

Standing in the middle of a two-room slave cabin, each room designated for a family of eight to 10 people, Jones points out photographs of the slaves who lived on the plantation.

“Most of the photographs over here are people that we do not have a name for,” Jones explains.

That’s something she wants to change. Belle Meade Plantation is one of the only southern plantations to offer an in-depth look at the slaves who worked there. Jones hopes this idea takes off.

“I think it's important for people to understand that this time period influences today I don't think people like to look at the parallels between yesterday and today because it makes it too surreal,” Jones said, “I think what Journey to Jubilee has done is hold up a mirror to our visitors faces and through looking at that mirror, you don't just question yourself. You question your parents, your grandparents, school system, justice system.”

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Find more information about tours here.

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