Plenty of museums and cultural sites sponsor living history programs, but Joseph McGill is likely the first person to dream up a “sleeping history” program. But five years ago, when he began sleeping around, so to speak, in former slave dwellings, he realized he was on to something. Spending the wee hours stretched out on hard wood or dirt floors of these humble dwellings gave him a visceral sense of what life must have like as a slave. To date, he’s completed more than 100 overnight stays in 17 states, including spending the night in slave quarters of three former US presidents. He shares insights (and air mattress tips) garnered along his sleep-over journeys to bring attention to these often neglected structures that are vitally important to the American built environment.
Joseph McGill Jr. is a history consultant for Magnolia Plantation in Charleston, SC and the founder of The Slave Dwelling Project, Inc. Prior to his current position, Mr. McGill was a field officer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation working to revitalize the Sweet Auburn commercial district in Atlanta and to develop a management plan for Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area.