Welcome! Log In Create A New Profile


US museum on slavery takes shape

Posted by Seko 
US museum on slavery takes shape
March 03, 2006 12:49PM
01.03.06 2.20pm
By Alan Elsner

Deep in the territory of the old Confederacy, a new glass and stone edifice will soon begin rising - the first national museum in the United States devoted to the subject of black slavery.

Builders will soon start sinking foundations for the 2700 sq metre United States National Slavery Museum that organisers hope to open to the public in early 2008.

The structure, 37m high, will be built on a 15ha site on donated land overlooking the Rappahannock River about 80km south of Washington and close to where several fierce Civil War battles were fought.

The building, illuminated at night, will be clearly visible to drivers on Interstate 95, the main north-south East Coast artery, said former Virginia Governor Douglas Wilder, himself the grandson of a slave, who is spearheading the project.

Wilder, now the mayor of Richmond, said there was a burning need for such an institution. "We need to ask new questions and provide new information about one of the most misreported and misunderstood institutions in American history," he said.

After slavery was abolished in the 1860s, blacks were reluctant to dwell on their painful history and were absorbed with the continuing fight for economic survival, civil rights and equality in the United States.

Wilder's own father was reluctant to speak about his father's experiences and handed down only a few stories about how his owner would beat him for sneaking off to visit his family on a different plantation. "He really tried to just get past it," Wilder said of his father.

That is now changing as black leaders express a growing desire and need to re-examine the past. Wilder said all Americans needed to understand, for example, the role slavery played in US economic development in the 19th century.

Museum officials said they have already raised around US$50 million ($76.3 million) -- around half the amount needed to build the museum. Wilder wants to raise an additional US$100 million as an endowment and has called on US corporations that may have profited from slavery to help, "not in the sense of reparations but as an acknowledgment of doing what is right." Several major corporations have pledged to help.

In a recent Washington speech, actor Ben Vereen, who played in the groundbreaking TV mini-series Roots in 1977, told corporate leaders they had an obligation to step forward.

"We've bought your cars. We've smoked your cigarettes. We've built your industries. Now it's time to tally up," he said.

"This is our Holocaust Museum," Vereen said, evoking a direct comparison with the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington that opened in 1993.

The museum design is by architect C.C. Pei, son of renowned architect I.M. Pei. The centrepiece is a massive glass-roofed atrium that will hold the replica of a slave ship, the Dos Amigos, which is being reconstructed from its original plans.

Museum executive director Vonita Foster said there were some 6,000 museums in the United States. Several smaller regional museums of slavery are in the works but this will be the first national museum devoted to the issue.

Apart from the ship, visitors to the slavery museum will undergo a multimedia experience that will allow them, if only for few moments, to feel a little of what it was like to be captured in Africa and become a slave.

"We want to surprise visitors, take away control and not let them know what is coming next," said exhibit designer Lyn Henley. "We will walk them through an experience of being psychologically captured."

She would not say exactly how this would happen but added that parts of the exhibit would be unsuitable for young children.

In another part of the exhibit, visitors would be taken into an "invisible church" where they could eavesdrop on the voices of slaves creeping away into the woods at night to practice their religion and meet their loved ones.

The museum already has a growing collection of artifacts, including slave shackles, furniture and clothing and a large collection of what Henley called "objects of racism" -- paraphernalia of the slave owners. One of the most evocative is a set of shackles designed for an infant.

Re: US museum on slavery takes shape
March 03, 2006 01:23PM

the national underground railroad freedom center is in cincinnati, ooHIGHoo
Sorry, only registered users may post in this forum.

Click here to login