How I Followed the Footprints of Slavery

In this enlightening personal account, one man 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.

Authors Joseph McGill and Herb Frazier discuss their book, Sleeping with the Ancestors, from the Magnolia Plantation in Charleston, SC.

Joseph McGill Jr., a historic preservationist and Civil War reenactor, 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.

Events and gatherings are arranged around these overnight stays, and it provides a unique way to understand the often otherwise obscured and distorted history of slavery. The project has inspired difficult conversations about race in communities from South Carolina to Alabama to Texas to Minnesota to New York, and all over the United States.

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 and unexpected immersion into the history of slavery, and especially the obscured and ignored aspects of that history.

“Joseph McGill Jr. tells a fascinating, necessary story of his direct engagement with truths many Americans would rather ignore…. An informative and engrossing book…. [McGill’s] book will help counter the toxicity of these times. With carefully researched fact, he refutes countless Gone With the Wind-like fictions, tales that comfort white supremacists. He confronts racist fantasy head on, through vivid first-hand reportage and thoughtful scholarship. Briefly living as our forebears did, he challenges nostalgia for a nation that never was. Amid rightwing book bans and anti-woke laws, this is a book long overdue…. Joseph McGill Jr. points out what folly it is to ignore things.” ~ The Guardian