Respect Diversity + Inclusion

Does a digital ban on plantation weddings promote progress or division?

A couple gets married at Belle Meade Plantation.
Belle Meade Plantation

Story at a glance

  • Some couples choose to celebrate their big day on former southern plantations, places that historically held enslaved people.
  • Some believe that celebrating weddings at these sites promotes the glorification of a dark time in our country’s history.
  • Popular wedding planning websites such as Pinterest, Zola and The Knot have stopped promoting plantations as wedding venues since December 2019.

About a month ago popular wedding planning websites Pinterest and The Knot Worldwide, which owns both The Knot and WeddingWire, made headline-worthy changes to their guidelines when it came to the promotion of wedding venues that were once slave-holding plantations. Their decisions came at the urging of civil rights advocacy organization Color of Change, which designs campaigns to end practices they believe to be unfair to black people. To illustrate, some of their current campaigns include a demand that the U.S. Congress guarantee fair pay for college athletes in every state and a call to end hair discrimination. Within days Pinterest and The Knot were joined in their decision by other wedding planning giants Zola and, and eventually followed by Martha Stewart Weddings.

“Color of Change brought an issue to light about the way venues with a history of slavery describe their properties to couples,” a representative of The Knot told Yahoo Lifestyle. “Our goal is to ensure that the content of all of our vendors on our sites is respectful and considerate to everyone. We are in the process of reviewing all of our plantation venues and finalizing our guidelines. At The Knot Worldwide, we pride ourselves as a company by being inclusive to all — all sexes, genders, races, sexual orientations, religions, etc. By working with Color of Change, we can further this value by providing a respectful experience for all couples, pros, and employees.”

We caught up with Jade Magnus Ogunnaike, Campaign Director at Color of Change to see what the response has been after the changes were made and to ask what their long-term goals are for the way we interact with places that have such a dark and divisive past.

Changing America: You had this goal of getting big publications and companies to change their standards of how they communicate about these places. In the last month what have you noticed — what has the public reception been?

Color of Change: The campaign was one that really led on, or capitalized on the unsaid norms of society — the idea that if you grew up in the south then plantations are okay to be used as wedding venues, and that’s something that more or less has been taken for granted.

In the black community, we’ve been having this cyclical conversation for years, about how outrageous it is. Why would anyone want to get married in a place where people were once systematically tortured, raped and beaten. And so, we brought this to the target. Initially, The Knot, WeddingWire and Pinterest were our industry leaders who really took a stand early. It wasn’t until the combination of media attention and, I think, consumer attention, that Martha Stewart Weddings and Brides [Magazine] and Zola also made commitments.

What has been enormously surprising to me is that they’ve all said that they have not received any negative backlash for these changes, and you know, to me that’s a bit shocking…obviously there are people who are defending this…but overall people have been totally affirmative in this space. So, yeah, I mean that’s amazing.

I do remember I had read that the people who own the plantations were like “wait a second.” Maybe they’re the only ones [upset]?

What’s really interesting is that [the campaign] has opened up a really important dialogue. You know people were saying, “Oh, do you think we should just burn these plantations down?” Nobody is saying that. I think it’s more about how we’re memorializing the remembering the atrocity that was the slave trade…remembering it, but not by throwing celebration near slave cabins, or having a party right where people were buried.

In fact, what we’re really trying to do is tell the truth and the true reality in history of what actually happened in slavery. There’s a larger conversation to be had about the perception of slavery in the United States.

What about these plantations then? How can we move forward, and what do you think our country’s long-term goals should be when it comes to how we interact with these types of places that have such a dark history?

In a lot of cases we found that these plantations are privately owned. I think we need to reimagine how we’re using the spaces. There’s so much history that happened in these spaces, and there’s so many untold stories that do need to be told. We need to make a public investment in telling the truth — we need the government to make a public investment in telling the truth about slavery, and I think that’s one way that we can reimagine that space.

Since you had these main players in the space make their changes, have you had others reach out to you to ask for recommendations on guideline shifts?

What we have seen are some really incredible curators at plantations such as Brigette Jones at Belle Meade. People like Brigette are working to create a whole field of history around what actually happened at these plantations. That’s a partnership and a collaboration we’re looking to look to build out more and figuring out how can we support the black curators doing this really important work we are inspired by.

I think it’s also really important for the narrative to shift. So, for example, we’re going to be releasing some guidelines next month [to the public] that we worked on with The Knot and WeddingWire — a robust plan to educate venues owners, wedding planners and couples.


Note: This conversation has been lightly edited for grammar and clarity.

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