Pinterest and The Knot Pledge to Stop Promoting Plantation Weddings

By Heather Murphy

Zola was also among five major websites that said they would cut back on promoting and romanticizing weddings at former slave plantations.

Rows of live oaks at Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens, a popular wedding venue in Mount Pleasant, S.C.
Rows of live oaks at Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens, a popular wedding venue in Mount Pleasant, S.C.Credit...Jumping Rocks/Universal Images Group, via Getty Images

Five major websites often used for wedding planning have pledged to cut back on promoting and romanticizing weddings at former slave plantations.

Pinterest, The Knot Worldwide — which owns The Knot and WeddingWire — and Brides announced Wednesday that they would make a variety of changes, including removing all references to plantations on their sites and prohibiting adjectives like “charming” to describe venues where many Americans’ ancestors were once enslaved, tortured and raped. And on Thursday, Zola said it would remove plantations from its venue listings.

The developments, a number of which were reported by BuzzFeed News, came in response to a targeted campaign by Color of Change, a racial justice organization. Rashad Robinson, the group’s president, said his team had submitted emails in October requesting a dialogue with five companies.

“You have a multi-multimillion-dollar industry that makes money off of glorifying sites of human rights atrocities,” he said in an interview on Wednesday. “For us, that’s outrageous.”

The shift comes amid a public reckoning around the role that government, art, the news media, museums and schools should play in recognizing the lingering effects of slavery in the United States.

The New York Times Weddings section is among the entities grappling with that responsibility. LeAnn Wilcox, the senior editor in charge of The Times’s wedding coverage, said she had decided a few months ago to exclude couples who were being married on plantations from wedding announcements and other wedding coverage.

“It seems so incongruous to feature a celebration, a party, an event meant to inspire a joyous future on the very grounds of such horrendous despair and brutality,” she said.

These developments have, of course, met resistance. Namely from the people who run the plantations, like Willie McRae, the owner of Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens, one of the most popular wedding venues around Charleston, S.C.

“We don’t care what color you are; everybody is welcome here,” he said. “We’ve had black weddings, interracial weddings, same-sex weddings.”

He said that anyone who visited Boone Hall could see what a wonderful place it is and that he could not understand why Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds drew heavy criticism for marrying at the plantation in 2012. “We’ve been a farm for 300 years; I don’t want to make anything racial out of it,” Mr. McRae said.

“There were bad acts that happened on some plantations, but not all plantations,” he added. “This was one of the first ones that taught slaves to read and write.”

Here’s a look at how five major companies guiding wedding planning responded to the request to reorient their framing of plantations.

Brides and grooms often use Pinterest, an image-sharing site with around 300 million active monthly users, to create visual inspiration boards for their wedding. Search for “plantation wedding” and you’ll see an endless stream of mostly white couples kissing and strolling on expansive green lawns.

Pinterest does not have plans to block this tag or hide images in the stream, but a line now appears at the top, stating: “People have reported Pins from this search. Let us know if you see something that goes against our policies.” The company will also limit autocomplete, search recommendations and email notifications for content related to plantation weddings and cease optimizing such material for search engines, a Pinterest representative said in a statement.

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

Brides, a wedding-planning site visited by around three million people a month, told The Times that it had begun removing all references to and images of plantations. Previously, plantations sometimes appeared in the site’s lists of recommended venues or in features with headlines like “An Elegant Wedding at Lowndes Grove Plantation” and “One Couple’s Elegant, Natural Wedding at Cherokee Plantation. As of late Wednesday, these links had been redirected to plantation-free wedding content.

“Brides is an inclusive place where everyone can feel celebrated,” a representative said in a statement. “Content glorifying plantations is not in line with our core values.”

Color of Change also sent letters to Zola and Martha Stewart Weddings, two other leading wedding-planning websites, but said Wednesday that it had not heard back from either.

Emily Forrest, a communications manager for Zola, told BuzzFeed News that the company had reviewed the complaint and determined that it did not violate Zola’s nondiscrimination policy. “While we may not always agree with couples on all of their wedding details, we also respect their right to choose where and how they want to get married,” she said.

On Thursday morning, however, the company revised its policy. “We re-evaluated all our venues listed on Zola and determined we will not allow vendors to list who are plantations,” a representative said in a statement to The Times.

On Wednesday afternoon, a representative from Martha Stewart Weddings told The Times, “We will give this careful thought and attention” and thanked “Color of Change for bringing this valid concern to us.”

The Knot and Wedding Wire are among the first sites that many people use when searching for wedding caterers, venues and vendors, attracting 13 million unique visitors per month. A representative from The Knot Worldwide said the company would not remove plantation venues from either site, but that it would revisit the language used to promote them.

Currently, for example, one of The Knot’s best of 2019 picks, the Kendall Plantation in Boerne, Texas, is described with the catchphrase, “An elegant day awaits you!”

“Elegant” is one of a number of adjectives that the company plans to ban from descriptions of plantations. “Charming” will also be prohibited.

A representative for The Knot said the company was working on new guidelines to “ensure all couples feel welcomed and respected on our sites” and to prohibit vendors from “using language that romanticizes or glorifies a history that includes slavery.” Care will be taken to ensure that venues do not simply rebrand themselves as farms to bypass the guidelines, the representative added.

As to why the sites would not remove plantations from their vendor listings altogether, the representative said: “We recognize that even if we remove these venues from our marketplace, they of course still exist and will continue to operate and potentially still market themselves using language that is insensitive to the history of plantations, which doesn’t solve the problem.”

Until Color of Change reached out, no one had voiced concerns about plantation content on the site, the representative said.

Mr. Robinson said he had been pleasantly surprised by how willing the companies were to make nearly immediate changes.

He said he had also been surprised by how many people had responded to the news by telling him they had never thought about whether it was wrong to have a wedding on a plantation. “That is a failure of all of us, that we have not forced people to remember,” he said.