The wedding venues are often said to have a “touch of southern charm.” One boasts of an 18th-century plantation home nestled inside a scenic landscape — complete with two slave cabins that show off the property’s “elaborate past.”
Those plantations are featured on WeddingWire, one of several popular wedding planning websites now working to disallow vendors from using language that glamorizes locales with a history of slavery. The effort comes after Color of Change, a civil rights advocacy group, sent letters urging Pinterest and The Knot Worldwide, which owns The Knot and WeddingWire, to cease promoting plantations entirely.
“Weddings should be a symbol of love and unity,” a Pinterest spokesman said in a statement. “Plantations represent none of those things. We are grateful to Color of Change for bringing attention to this disrespectful practice. We are working to limit the distribution of this content and accounts across our platform, and continue to not accept advertisements for them.”
Pinterest has already started to moderate and limit plantation wedding content on its platform, including search recommendations and notifications. Users who look up “plantation weddings” and similar terms on Pinterest will be warned that some of the results may violate the site’s policies.
Senior campaign director Jade Magnus Ogunnaike told The Washington Post that Color of Change wanted to target platforms such as Pinterest and The Knot because millions of couples use them to plan weddings and identify potential vendors. The group realized that some vendors use decorative words such as “breathtaking” to describe plantations — venues that evoke painful imagery for African Americans.
“Black people don’t have happy memories of the antebellum period and plantations, where our ancestors were beaten and tortured,” Ogunnaike said. “It’s important the reality of what happened in these spaces is present, versus a romanticization of human rights abuses.”
In addition to The Knot and Pinterest, Color of Change also sent letters to Zola, Martha Stewart Weddings and Brides. The changes promised by The Knot and Pinterest were first reported Wednesday by BuzzFeed News.
Always a source of controversy, plantation weddings and tours have been subject to increased scrutiny in recent years. An August Washington Post report highlighted negative online reviews of Southern plantations where white reviewers decried tours that focused too much on “how hard it was for the slaves.”
Plantation wedding venues are frequently advertised online as historic and beautiful. Actors Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds still receive criticism for getting married at the Boone Hall Plantation in South Carolina — described on its website as “one of the most breathtaking wonders of nature anywhere in the world.” The plantation features nine slave cabins.
“[The vendors] are particularly targeting people who want to get married in a ‘Gone With the Wind’ fantasy when black people were slaves,” Ogunnaike said.
Ogunnaike said the wedding planning companies have generally been receptive to Color of Change’s recommendations, and that the conversations are ongoing.
The Knot Worldwide in a statement said it was working with Color of Change to prohibit vendors on its sites “from using language that romanticizes or glorifies a history that includes slavery.” Vendors who do not follow that rule will be removed, the company said.
“Color of Change brought an issue to light about the way venues with a history of slavery describe their properties to couples,” The Knot Worldwide said in a statement. It also said it would educate “vendors on how to respectfully market their businesses to all couples.”
On Thursday, the company apparently alleviated some of the pressure it was putting on the vendors, and instead appeared to take more responsibility for its own guidelines. The company now says it is grateful Color of Change was helping it “develop new content guidelines that are grounded in history and respectful to all couples.” The statement no longer specifically addresses vendors with histories of slavery and how they market their properties.
Ogunnaike called the initial efforts from Pinterest, The Knot and WeddingWire — websites she used to plan her own wedding three years ago — an “extremely massive step.” She said Brides.com also replied to the letter and requested a meeting. But Colors of Change on Wednesday said it had not yet heard from Martha Stewart Weddings, Ogunnaike added.
In a statement to Buzzfeed, Emily Forrest, a communications manager for Zola, told the outlet that the company had received the letter but determined “it did not violate our non-discrimination policy.” Forrest told The Post on Thursday that the company had “re-evaluated all our venues listed on Zola and determined we will not allow vendors to list who are plantations.”
“We recognize that this is a painful issue and have been evaluating on an ongoing basis,” Forrest added.
“The conversation around plantation weddings has been happening for years and years in the black community and social media,” Ogunnaike added. “We’re excited to be working with Pinterest and Knot to change the culture.”