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Mount Pleasant's Belle Hall Plantation residents vote 'no' on proposed name change

Belle Hall Plantation SECONDARY_1.jpg (copy)

A ballot proposing to remove the word "plantation" from two signs in the Belle Hall neighborhood did not pass. One sign is at the entrance; the other is near the clubhouse. File/Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

MOUNT PLEASANT — Belle Hall Plantation residents will not change the neighborhood name or alter signs to remove the word "plantation."

Of about 1,200 homes in the subdivision, 594 cast mail-in ballots to decide the controversial issue, according to a homeowners association notification.

The vote tallied April 26 was 369-225 (62-38 percent) against changing the name.

The proposal to remove the word “plantation” was pushed by Brigid Sullivan and six others who are part of a group called Belle Hall for All. The campaign gained support among residents concerned that the term romanticized an ugly history of racial subordination for the purpose of selling real estate.

Belle Hall, they argued, was less likely to attract Black homebuyers and achieve some diversity as long as it retained the word in its name.

Critics of the effort to change the signs argued the proposal was an example of political correctness run amok, and the board of directors noted that “the advocacy group that supports this change did not meet the Bylaw requirements to call a special meeting or vote by the membership of the community.”

The board nevertheless decided to proceed with a communitywide ballot.

Belle Hall is not the only subdivision home to residents seeking to remove “plantation” from the name of the community. Some residents of Hamlin Plantation in Mount Pleasant also wish to replace the term.

They are part of a trend that gained some urgency after the police killing of George Floyd in 2020. Residents of Plantation, Fla., have petitioned authorities to change the town’s name. Residents of Plantation Estates, a senior retirement community located southeast of Charlotte, succeeded late last year in changing the name to Matthews Glen. And homeowners in Hilton Head Plantation have been trying to get the divisive word replaced for months.

Michael Allen, a Black resident of Belle Hall, was among those advocating to change the name. He retired in late 2017 from a 38-year career as an interpreter of history with the National Park Service, and has long been active in the community promoting Gullah culture and social justice.

“Although I am disappointed, I am respectful of the vote,” he said. “However, I know that our cause was justified, factual and steeped in history.”

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Another Belle Hall resident, Adam Machell, said he didn’t much care one way or the other about modifying the name of his neighborhood, but he was troubled by the methodology of the vote. 

“The HOA bylaws require 25 percent of the residents to bring a vote to the entire community (with a special meeting),” he noted. “The Belle Hall for All group never met that threshold. It really is that simple.” The board opted for mail-in ballots rather than a special meeting, though such a meeting also can be called by the president or vice president or a majority of the board, according to the bylaws.

He said most of his neighbors don’t use the term “plantation” when referring to the subdivision anyway, and some with whom he spoke about the issue expressed concern the vote could have been the start of a lengthy and costly process.

“Removing ‘Plantation’ from legal documents would have been a much harder and more expensive proposition,” he said. “Simply changing the name on the sign was only word play.”

Machell said in an email he hopes the debate can be put to rest and that those who voted no won’t be “identified as being against change (or worse) when, for a good number of us, it was simply about following the rules.”

Sullivan said the campaign and the vote, while ultimately unsuccessful, included a welcomed silver lining.

“We are incredibly thankful for the many personal connections we made with our wonderful neighbors both in Belle Hall and the greater community through these efforts,” she said. “We feel these will continue to be fruitful relationships and foster further community.”

She said the Belle Hall for All group will continue to advocate for inclusion, sponsor educational activities and foster neighborly relations with residents of the adjacent Snowden community, some of whose predominantly Black homeowners expressed support for the campaign to remove the word “plantation.”

Contact Adam Parker at aparker@postandcourier.com.

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