National Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: Kelley Fanto Deetz

Affiliation: Stratford Hall Plantation & University of California, Berkeley

Dr. Kelley Fanto Deetz is Director of Education, Programming and Visitor Engagement at Stratford Hall Plantation in Virginia, Co-CEO History Arts and Science Action Network, and a Visiting Scholar at the University of California at Berkeley. She holds degrees in African Diaspora Studies/Anthropology (Ph.D.) from the University of California at Berkeley; African American Studies (M.A.) from the University of California at Berkeley; Black Studies & History (B.A.) from the College of William and Mary. Her areas of specialization are African American history, material culture, archaeology, racial reconciliation, and restorative justice. Her most recent publications include “Memo from a historian: White ladies cooking in plantation museums are a denial of history”, featured on The Conversation in 2019.


In July of 1738, 70 enslaved West Africans were sold to Thomas Lee and tasked with building his Georgian style mansion on the Potomac River in Virginia. These men, women, and children lived in temporary housing while they hauled bricks, cut wood, and built the big house for their enslaver. Recent archaeological evidence and artifacts found hidden in the walls of the mansion tell stories of those West African people, and their attempts to pursurvere enslavement.

Stratford Hall plantation is a National Historic Landmark, the birthplace and boyhood home of two signers of the Declaration of Independence, Richard Henry and Francis Lightfoot Lee, and Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

Dr. Deetz discusses the role of archaeological investigation to debunk myths around enslaved cooks in the American south. Drawing from her book, Bound to the Fire: How Virginia’s Enslaved Cooks Helped Invent American Cuisine, Deetz interrogates the portrayal of the smiling images of “Aunt Jemima” and other historical and fictional black cooks found on various food products and in advertising. She draws upon archaeological evidence, cookbooks, plantation records, and folklore to present a nuanced study of the lives of enslaved plantation cooks from colonial times through emancipation and beyond, revealing how these men and women were literally “bound to the fire” and were nothing like their fictional depictions in food advertising.

In 1960 Columbian Harmony Cemetery in Washington D.C. was bulldozed to make way for a bus station. Urban renewal and a simmering Civil Rights Movement framed the demolition and displacement of 37,000 African American graves, including Elizabeth Keckley (Civil activist, Author, and President Lincoln’s seamstress), members of the Frederick Douglass/Bailey family, medal of honor recipients, and countless other prominent African Americans. The bodies were moved to New Harmony Cemetery in Maryland, and their gravestones were given away as riffraff to a private landowner in Virginia. Sixty years later, in 2020, these headstones were discovered by the new landowner, and Harmony Cemetery Project ensued. Dr. Deetz and her organization History, Arts, and Science Action Network (HASAN), are facilitating a large-scale archaeological excavation to remove and repatriate the headstones, working in partnership with descendants and state governments to restore justice and right a historical wrong.

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