Sleeping with the Ancestors focuses on all of the key sites Joe McGill has visited in his ongoing project and digs deeper into the actual history of each location, using McGill’s own experience and conversations with the community to enhance those original stories. Altogether, McGill and coauthor Herb Frazier give readers an important unexpected emersion into the history of slavery, and especially the obscured and ignored aspects of that history.
In this enlightening personal account, Joe McGill tells the story of his groundbreaking project to sleep overnight in former slave dwellings that still stand across the country–revealing the fascinating history behind these sites and shedding light on larger issues of race in America. Joseph McGill Jr., a historic preservationist and Civil War re-enactor, founded the Slave Dwelling Project in 2010 based on an idea that was sparked and first developed in 1999. Since founding the project, McGill has been touring the country, spending the night in former slave dwellings–throughout the South, but also the North and the West, where people are often surprised to learn that such structures exist. Sleeping with the Ancestors focuses on all of the key sites McGill has visited in his ongoing project and digs deeper into the actual history of each location, using McGill’s own experience and conversations with the community to enhance those original stories. Altogether, McGill and coauthor Herb Frazier give readers an important unexpected emersion into the history of slavery, and especially the obscured and ignored aspects of that history.
Joseph McGill, Jr. is the founder of the Slave Dwelling Project and a history consultant for Magnolia Plantation in Charleston, SC. By arranging for people to sleep in extant slave dwellings, the Slave Dwelling Project has brought much needed attention to these often-neglected structures that are vitally important to the American built environment. Mr. McGill has conducted over 250 overnights in approximately 150 different sites in 25 states and the District of Columbia. He has interacted with the descendants of both the enslaved communities and of the enslavers associated with antebellum historic sites. He speaks with school children and college students, with historical societies, community groups, and members of the public. Since 2016, Mr. McGill expanded the Slave Dwelling Project to offer a program of living history called “Inalienable Rights: Living History Through the Eyes of the Enslaved.” The Project has conducted 7 conferences since 2013.
Joe McGill is also a Civil War Reenactor who participates in living history presentations, and lectures. He was a field officer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, working to revitalize the Sweet Auburn commercial district in Atlanta, GA and to develop a management plan for the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area. He served as the Executive Director of the African American Museum located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. His responsibilities included seeking funds from grant making entities to support the capital and operating budget of the museum/cultural center and developing programs that interpret the history of African Americans.
Mr. McGill is the former Director of History and Culture at Penn Center, St. Helena Island, South Carolina. Penn School was the first school built during the Civil War for the education of recently freed slaves. He was also employed by the National Park Service, serving as a Park Ranger at Fort Sumter National Monument in Charleston, South Carolina. As a Park Ranger, Mr. McGill gave oral presentations on Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie on and off site. He supervised volunteers and participated in living history presentations.
Mr. McGill appears in the book Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz. He is also a member of the South Carolina Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Upon graduating from high school, he enlisted in the United States Air Force. While in the Air Force, Mr. McGill served as Security Policeman in England, Washington State and Germany.