May 13, 2013
UPDATE: Curator interview reveals more historical information about the cabin.
Point of Pines Plantation on Edisto Island, South Carolina, had more than 170 slaves before the Civil War working in the fields to pick Sea Island cotton. Not much evidence of the slaves’ daily toil exists now, though, except for a couple one-story, dilapidated cabins–the last physical reminders of the brutal and degrading living conditions of the enslaved, as well as an emblem of the strength and endurance of the nearly four million Americans living in bondage by the time of the war.
Today, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) announced the acquisition of one of these 19th-century cabins, which was donated by the Edisto Island Historic Preservation Society last month after they received it from the plantation’s current owners. The cabin will travel to its new home at the Smithsonian to preserve the story it stands for.
Slave cabins are held in other museums and collections around the country. However, NMAAHC focused on acquiring one from Edisto Island, says curator Nancy Bercaw, who is in South Carolina this week to oversee the relocation project, is that the Point of Pines plantation was one of the first places where slaves “self-emancipated” themselves before the Emancipation Proclamation. South Carolina’s coastal islands, Bercaw says, were the earliest territories overtaken by Union troops. Point of Pines became a Union stronghold in 1861, and the African Americans living on the plantation, along with other slaves from around the area who had left their owners, declared themselves free.
Museum representatives just arrived at the plantation this morning to begin the week-long process of taking the cabin apart, piece by piece, and driving it up to the Washington, DC area. Officials say that every board and nail will be carefully numbered and packaged for shipment. The cabin eventually will be reconstructed inside the African American History and Culture Museum, which is scheduled to open in 2015.
Already, dismantling the cabin and examining the site has revealed details about the plantation’s slave community, says Bercaw. The cabin is now understood to have been part of a larger “slave street,” which consisted of up to 25 similarly small dwellings built in a row along a road. Bercaw and her team are working with Low Country Africana, too, to interview local descendents of the slaves. Their stories will supplement the documentation of the community’s history.
“The Point of Pines slave cabin will help us share the living history of a place and the resilience of the people, who, in the darkest days of slavery, built the cabin, cleared the land, worked in the fields and raised their families there,” says Bercaw. “The cabin will be one of the jewels of the museum positioned at its center to tell the story of slavery and freedom within its walls.”
Lonnie Bunch, the museum’s founding director, says: “Slavery is one of the most important episodes in American history, but it is often the least understood. By exhibiting this cabin, NMAAHC will ensure that the rich, complex and difficult story of the enslaved will be made accessible for the millions who will visit the museum.”
The cabin will be the focal piece of the museum’s exhibition “Slavery and Freedom,” which examines slavery’s role in shaping America and its lasting impact on African Americans.
The Museum currently is in the early stages of construction, but stop by its recently opened onsite Welcome Center to preview what is to come.
May 2, 2013
Events May 3-5: American Civil Rights, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and Interactive Robot Games
Friday, May 3: Exhibition Tour: Changing America
This year is a big one for celebrating civil rights; 2013 marks both the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, in which Martin Luther King, Jr. told the nation he had a dream of equality. Changing America: The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863, and the March on Washington, 1963 celebrates both momentous events with related historical objects, including the pens Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon Johnson used to sign the Emancipation Proclamation and Civil Rights Act, respectively. Today, stop by the exhibition for a tour that explains the various objects’ significance. Free. 2 p.m. African American History Museum.
Saturday, May 4: I Want the Wide American Earth Family Festival
Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month! To kick off the month’s celebration of Asian Pacific American culture, as well as to show off its new exhibit I Want the Wide American Earth, the American History Museum has organized arts, crafts and a scavenger hunt today, along with an afternoon of storytelling and spoken word performances. Guests include local writers Wendy Wan-Long Shang (The Great Wall of Lucy), Eugenia Kim (The Calligrapher’s Daughter) and Scott Seligman (The First Chinese American: The Remarkable Life of Wong Chin Foo) and spoken word extraordinaire Regie Cabico. Free. 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. American History Museum.
Sunday, May 5: Childen’s Day
Keep the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month festivities going! Today, the American Art Museum celebrates Children’s Day, a traditional Korean holiday for kids, with arts and activities inspired by Nam June Paik (1932-2006), an avant-garde musician and installation and video artist whose work is on display in the museum. Kids can play with interactive TV and robot games and go on a scavenger hunt (in case you missed yesterday’s!). Free. 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. American Art Museum.
Also, check out our Visitors Guide App. Get the most out of your trip to Washington, D.C. and the National Mall with this selection of custom-built tours, based on your available time and passions. From the editors of Smithsonian magazine, the app is packed with handy navigational tools, maps, museum floor plans and museum information including ‘Greatest Hits’ for each Smithsonian museum.
For a complete listing of Smithsonian events and exhibitions visit the goSmithsonian Visitors Guide. Additional reporting by Michelle Strange.
March 6, 2013
Looking for something to do today, while the snowy weather conditions persist? The Smithsonian museums will be open for business today. But the National Zoo will be closed Wednesday, March 6, 2013.
Plan your visit, using our convenient Tours app, a free download is available here.
February 8, 2013
Carlotta Walls set out for her first day of 10th grade in a new dress. The year was 1957, and the school was Little Rock Central High. Walls and eight other African-American students were stopped by a white mob opposed to desegregation, and the ensuing confrontation between Arkansas and federal authorities took 20 days and Army troops to quell.
Walls recently donated the dress—patterned with numbers and letters—to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Bill Pretzer, a curator, says her great-uncle bought it thinking, “Desegregating Little Rock merits a store-bought dress.” Walls graduated from Little Rock Central in 1960, after her home was bombed that February.
“I really did want that diploma,” she says, “to validate all of the crap that I had gone through.” Carlotta Walls LaNier, now 70, is president of the Little Rock Nine Foundation, which works for equal access to education.
For your first day of school at Little Rock Central High School, why was that store-bought dress so special?
“We didn’t purchase too often, to be honest with you, if you understand the Jim Crow South, you couldn’t try on clothes, and so forth, as I grew up. My mother was an expert seamstress, so she just made all of our clothes, including hers. My great uncle, knew that that was the case and he wanted me to have a store-bought dress to go to my new school, so he stopped by the house and asked my mother, he said, here’s the money and I want you to go get her a store-bought dress.”
What were you thinking life at your new school would be like?
“I knew that we could not do any extracurricular activity…I knew I was giving that piece up but I just figured that the following year I’d be able to get back to extracurricular activities. That part was okay. It was excitement for me, to be going to a new high school, and to be the one that was in my neighborhood. So that was what was going on in my mind.”
“Yes, I saw all of the anger, and the ugly faces across the street, but I ignored them, and I really did consider them ignorant people. To be honest with you, that is what really got me through the whole year, that I knew this was ignorance that was making these statements and not the type of people that I would associate with.”
Were your parents worried to send you?
“I think they were more proud of the fact that I had signed up to go without a discussion with them.”
“I know they were nervous by what they were reading, but they also felt confident that we were doing the right thing. When I wrote my book, I read some quotes of my father’s and he felt that, he had served in World War II, I had a right to go to that school and his tax dollars helped pay for that school, for the schooling that went on. And he felt that they didn’t separate his taxes, so why should we be separated as far as going to school?”
As the youngest, how did you relate to the rest of the Little Rock Nine?
“I listened to the seniors and juniors, even when I was in junior high school, I looked up to those who were older and were doing well, they were role models for me.”
“I must admit as the months went on, I recognized we were all equal in this, so you know my decision making got sharper and more focused, I think I was focused to start with, otherwise I wouldn’t have gone there anyway, but as far as decision making I was making some decisions that were somewhat different than some of the others because I looked at the landscape a little bit differently.”
“One in particular. . .I was thinking about Minnijean [Brown-Trickey] and Melba [Pattillo Beals] and a couple of others who bought their lunch every day in the cafeteria. That was a battleground in my mind that, you knew that you were going to have to deal with being pushed and shoved. . .in line to purchase your lunch. So I brought my lunch every day, so I wouldn’t have to deal with that. I dealt with it enough in the hallways and in the classrooms. My one break was having lunch, so why have to continue that sort of thing in the lunch line?”
But you made it through the first year and then came back your senior year, even after the governor closed the school for an entire year?
“I was determined to finish that year, I was not going to give up, because that way they would’ve won, and I was not about to let that happen. Because of my sports involvement, I was a pretty competitive person. I was just not going to let that happen. I didn’t have to go back, but after awhile, after that first and the second year the schools were closed, I went back my senior year to finish, because I really did want that diploma to validate all of the crap that I had gone through.”
“I remember being back on the campus and the fact that there were no guards there to protect us. I was cautious, there was no question about that, however, I also felt that the senior class members were in the 10th grade with me. . .they had suffered just like I had in a sense with school being out and they were low people on the totem pole too, so now that they were in a leadership position, they were determined not to have the same sort of things to go on. Not to say that they stopped a lot of things, but the tone was different and they didn’t want the schools to be closed either, they were happy to be back in school.”
Why did your mom keep your first day of school dress all those years?
“She just packed it up and put it in the cedar chest. I think not knowing, but at the same feeling that it meant something, she kept it. And I’m just happy she did.”
February 6, 2013
“This day has been a long time coming,” Barack Obama said last February at the groundbreaking ceremony for the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). The museum, first proposed by black Civil War veterans, was finally approved a decade ago, and construction is now underway.
Today, the museum’s future site is an enormous fenced hole in the ground at the corner of 15th Street and Constitution Avenue on the National Mall’s northwest corner. But visitors are already stopping by the new welcome center that opened in an on-site trailer over the holidays in December.
“The Welcome Center ties in with [Museum Director] Lonnie Bunch’s vision that the museum is open before we have a building,” says Esther Washington, Smithsonian’s director of education. This vision hopes to use modern technology to extend the museum’s reach beyond Washington. In 2007, the museum launched a virtual “Museum on the Web,” and over the past five years, it has opened exhibits in the International Center of Photography in New York City and at the American History Museum.
Panels, a plasma screen and a miniature model of the Mall explain how the idea for the museum came to fruition, kiosks quiz visitors on African American culture and an information desk staffed by volunteers provides the latest updates on the museum’s progress. “People interested in African American history, and interested in American history through an African American lens can see the collection, they can see the public programs we’re doing,” says Washington.
But plasma screens and panels have nothing over the center’s most popular attraction—watching the construction. A row of large windows overlooking the big hole is the new must-see in Washington D.C., particularly for kids.
“Visitors can see the real work that we have done so far,” says Washington. And for a city frequently chastised for government gridlock, a place to go to see progress and industry can be a big draw.
The Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian’s 19th museum, opens in 2015. The Welcome Center currently runs on a limited schedule, on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.