Wedding sites reconsider promoting former plantations as venues

Advocacy efforts have pushed websites like Pinterest and The Knot to review content that romanticizes former slave plantations and their histories.

Janet Blackmon Morgan/The Sun News/AP
A bride walks down a staircase at Litchfield Plantation in Litchfield Beach, South Carolina, November 2012. In response to an advocacy group's campaign, major websites used for wedding planning are reviewing policies about promoting former slave plantations as venues.

Four major websites used for wedding planning are revising their policies on content referencing former slave plantations, responding to an advocacy group's campaign urging the companies to stop promoting venues where black people were once brutalized.

Pinterest says it will now limit distribution of content promoting plantation venues. The Knot and Brides will no longer allow content glorifying the history of plantations. And Zola will stop listing plantation venues on its site altogether.

All four sites announced the changes this week after receiving letters from Color of Change, which describes itself as the country's largest online racial justice organization with 1.5 million members. The organization also sent a letter to Martha Stewart Weddings, which reached back to the group to start a conversation about the issue.

“Plantations are not just beautiful or charming places,” said Jade Magnus Ogunnaike, senior campaign director of Color of Change, which objected to such descriptions of plantations in its letters to the companies. “They are places that were intentionally created to force black people to work, torture them, and [sexually] abuse them.”

Pinterest, which couples often use to share and find inspiration for their weddings, said people will still be able to search for plantation venues but the site now shows an advisory warning that some results might violate its policies. The company also will limit autocomplete and search recommendations for plantations searches. Pinterest said it already did not allow plantation wedding venues to advertise on its site and now will take steps to ensure that such ads do not show up on searches.

“Weddings should be a symbol of love and unity. Plantations represent none of those things. We are grateful to Color of Change for bringing attention to this disrespectful practice," Pinterest said in a statement.

The Knot, an online wedding planning platform, said it will prohibit vendors "from using language that romanticizes or glorifies a history that includes slavery." Similarly, Brides has removed references on its site glorifying plantations, according to a statement from its parent company, Dotdash.

Zola, another wedding planning site, said it would no longer allow former plantations to list on its site altogether. The company initially had responded to Color of Change by saying its complaint did not violate its non-discrimination policy, according to BuzzFeed News, which first reported the story Wednesday.

On Thursday, however, Zola said it had "re-evaluated all our venues listed on Zola and determined we will not allow vendors to list who are plantations."

Zola CEO Shan-Lyn Ma said the company got in touch with Color of Change on Thursday and was scheduling a conversation with the group. She said the company never promoted plantation wedding venues but now would de-list them.

"This is really sensitive and painful issue and we want to be doing the right thing by our couples, our employees, and anyone who has any interaction with Zola in any way," Ms. Ma said.

Ms. Ogunnaike said Martha Stewart Weddings reached out to Color of Change on Thursday and expressed interest in starting a dialogue on the issue. Martha Stewart Weddings did not immediately return a request for comment.

"We are very happy about how receptive the companies they have been. We look forward to larger changes in the wedding industry and the way plantations are viewed across the country," Ms. Ogunnaike said.

Some former Southern plantations have become popular wedding venues over the years but a backlash has been growing. The actors Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds came under fire for tying the knot in 2012 at Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens in Charleston, South Carolina, which was a setting for the 2004 movie "The Notebook."

The site, which remains a working farm, includes nine of the original slave cabins that were built during the antebellum period. While some old plantations that are open for tours or events don’t include any mention of slavery or enslaved people in promotional materials, Boone Hall’s website includes a section on black history.

An official with Boone Hall did not return an email seeking comment.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

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