Smithsonian Relocates Slave Cabin To Be Centerpiece Of Upcoming Exhibition

Smithsonian
Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture

The Smithsonian Institution has received a unique donation – an intact slave cabin from a plantation in South Carolina. The cabin, which was on the grounds of the Point of Pines Plantation on Edisto Island, was donated by the current landowners.

For the past month a Smithsonian team has been meticulously dismantling it and removing it to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The reconstructed cabin will be the centerpiece of the “Slavery and Freedom” exhibition when the museum opens on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in 2015.

While it will certainly make an interesting display and attract lots of attention, it’s a shame that it wasn’t left where it was. Historic homes and artifacts have a more immediate impact on the visitor when they’re left in the original location. The move has taken away the cabin’s context. It’s no longer in the area where the slaves worked, lived and died. Instead of experiencing the landscape – the heat, the insects, the thick undergrowth the slaves would have known – we’ll now see it in a modern museum thronging with tourists.

Perhaps it was impossible for the cabin to remain where it was. Perhaps the Smithsonian had to move it to save it, but we’ve still lost something.

Civil War New York Subject Of New Exhibition

Civil War
During the Civil War, New York was the wealthiest and most populous state on either side of the conflict. A new exhibition at the New York State Museum in Albany examines the important role New York played in preserving the Union.

“An Irrepressible Conflict: The Empire State in the Civil War” features more than two hundred artifacts, documents and images centering around the themes of Antebellum New York, the Civil War, and Reconstruction and Legacy. Artifacts on display include a Lincoln life mask from 1860, the earliest photograph of Frederick Douglass, and the only known portrait of Dred Scott. There’s also a slave collar from c.1806 to point out the often-overlooked fact that slavery was once common in this northern state.

The exhibition examines various aspects of the war and home front and has a section dedicated to the Elmira Prison Camp, dubbed “Hellmira” by the Confederate soldiers interned there. Nearly 25 percent of them died from malnutrition, exposure and disease.

In a press release, the museum stated that the exhibition’s title was inspired by an 1858 quote from then U.S. Senator William H. Seward, who disagreed with those who believed that the prospect of war between the North and South was the work of “fanatical agitators.” He understood that the roots of conflict went far deeper, writing, “It is an irrepressible conflict, between opposing and enduring forces.”

“An Irrepressible Conflict: The Empire State in the Civil War” starts today and runs until September 22, 2013.

[Photo of noncommissioned officers’ mess of Co. D, 93d New York Infantry courtesy Library of Congress]

Reducing Your Slavery Footprint

slaveryDespite my awareness of sweatshops, I was shocked while flipping through the July issue of Marie Clare on a recent flight, when I came across an article entitled, “What’s Your Slavery Footprint?”

According to slaveryfootprint.org, (which is backed by the U.S. State Department), there are up to 27 million slaves worldwide, many of whom work in the mining and agriculture industries. The result? A lot of our everyday household goods, including shoes, cosmetics, and toiletries, raw materials for cars, and the seafood industry utilize slave labor.

Some of the worst offenders include China, parts of Southeast Asia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (definition: irony) and India. You can actually add up the “slave footprint” in your home by utilizing the website, or by downloading its “Free World” app, which also enables you to send letters of protest to major chain stores known to use products made with slave labor. You can also make donations to Slavery Footprint to help enslaved workers.

As Alison Kiehl Friedman, deputy director of the U.S. State Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, says in Marie Claire, “[businesses] should be transparent in their practices.” We all need to pick our battles when it comes to purchasing power, but it’s fascinating, as well as chilling, to find out just how much of what we own is made using forced labor. Knickknacks for thought.

[Photo credit: Flickr user stevendepolo]

Slave Quarters Discovered at Monticello

Monticello
Archaeologists digging at Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello, Virginia, have discovered slave quarters used at the time he was living there.

The remains were found at Tufton, one of Jefferson’s farms a mile from the actual house. Jefferson owned several farms around Monticello that were worked by his many slaves. The artifacts dating to Jefferson’s time include everyday items such as a button and fragments of ceramic, as well as a slate pencil, which raises the question of whether one of the slaves was literate. A more sobering find was a padlock. The slaves appear to have lived in small, single-family homes.

Jefferson’s views on slavery were complex. He correctly predicted that it would divide the nation, but that didn’t stop him from owning slaves himself, and while Jefferson wrote against race mixing, DNA evidence indicates that Jefferson fathered several children with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings.

A second slave quarter site was also found, dating to the middle and end of the nineteenth century. Jefferson had died in 1826 and his family sold his 130 slaves to pay off his many debts. Monticello itself was sold in 1831. The family that bought the Tufton farm also worked it with slaves until the end of the Civil War.

Photo courtesy Stefan Volk.

National Slavery Museum goes bankrupt without ever opening

National Slavery MuseumThe National Slavery Museum in Fredericksburg, Virginia, has filed for bankruptcy.

This will make little difference to potential visitors, however, since the museum doesn’t actually exist.

Former Virginia governor Douglas Wilder, shown here in this U.S. Government photo, founded a nonprofit organization in 2001 to create the museum. It was supposed to open in 2004 but never did. A small memorial sculpture garden was opened in 2007.

Since 2008, the organization has owed taxes on the property, which have now risen to $215,000. The city has stepped in and is now trying to sell the land. The museum’s filing for bankruptcy is aimed at stopping this from happening. Its bankruptcy paperwork says the organization has more than $3 million in debts.

The museum is also embroiled in a legal battle with Therbia and Marva Parker, who donated almost 100 historic artifacts with the understanding that they’d be put on display. Since it’s obvious that’s not going to happen, they want their artifacts back.