The First Slavery Museum
Did you see the article in The New York Times called “Building the First Slavery Museum in America“?
I found the article riveting. The builder of this museum, John Cummings, is a wealthy southern white man who bought the Whitney Plantation many years ago not knowing what he would do with it.
He received an extensive survey with his purchase. That led him to discover the story of slavery on the property. He decided that it was time we had, in this country, a museum that focused on the story of slavery, so he devoted himself to building it.
It provides “a different experience from those of its neighbors . . those that have been restored for tourists, transporting them into a world of bygone Southern grandeur — one in which mint juleps, manicured gardens and hoop skirts are emphasized over the fact that such grandeur was made possible by the enslavement of black human beings.”
The visitors looking at an exhibit on the North American slave trade can see, just outside, seven actual slave cabins. There is a slave jail; visitors see the “big house” while peering through the bars.
Cummings has been asked repeatedly why he spent many millions and fifteen years building the museum. He said. “I’ve been asked all the questions. About white guilt this and that. About the honky trying to profit off of slavery. But here’s the thing: Don’t you think the story of slavery is important?”
I think it is; I agree with Cummings that it’s high time we tell the story fully. I’m glad I was able to read about it and would love to see the museum. NPR also ran a piece on the museum; the photo is from their website.
Jame Baldwin on Power
I received my daily email from The New Yorker to find nine articles from their archives in celebration of their 90 years of publishing. I chose one to read, “Letter from a Region in My Mind,” by James Baldwin, written in November 1962 when I’d been in Nigeria just two months.
I was not familiar with The New Yorker. It’s only in the last twenty or so years that I’ve understood its place in the American literary experience. Reading Baldwin’s piece confirmed its iconic role.
Baldwin talks about the concept of Negro and how it is confined to America.
“Negroes in this country—and Negroes do not, strictly or legally speaking, exist in any other—are taught really to despise themselves from the moment their eyes open on the world. This world is white and they are black. White people hold the power, which means that they are superior to blacks . . and the world has innumerable ways of making this difference known and felt and feared. Long before the Negro child perceives this difference . . he has begun to react to it, he has begun to be controlled by it.”
I believe there has been some change in the 53 years since Baldwin wrote this, but white people still hold the power. Children of color, especially black boys, have to be taught an awareness of how that power can play out in deadly ways. We’ve seen this too often in recent months.
I have not read Baldwin’s works, but want to. I will suggest him to my two book groups, and/or for discussion in our racial justice work at the Unitarian Church.
And while searching to see which book I might suggest, I found an article from the NYTimes January 2014 travel section, by a writer who was retracing Baldwin’s steps in Paris. He talked about Baldwin’s novel Giovanni’s Room, set in 1950s Paris. The writer says, “I found this to be the first novel I’d encountered with the subject of homosexuality placed front and center and written by anyone who remotely resembled me.”
That might be the one to read. The other candidate would be Notes of a Native Son. Do you know his work? Do you have a recommendation?
Other Americans Should Go Abroad
You might be tempted to call this post ‘In Praise of The New York Times.’ Without intending, I’m quoting it repeatedly, with a dash of The New Yorker.
This afternoon I grabbed the “Sunday Review” section from my husband before he took it upstairs and mixed it in with other papers scattered on the floor of the bedroom.
Do you know how there are snippets of information across the top of the front page of the Sunday Review? One said, “Black Americans, go abroad,” by Thomas Chatterton Williams. I turned to the opinion piece, called “The Next Great Migration,” to find that the writer asks why more black Americans do not go overseas to live, at least for a time. Of course I thought of Baldwin.
And indeed, he said it’s an opportunity to experience, “the heady mix of anonymity and authority over his own identity that Baldwin once called ‘the sanction, if one can accept it, to become oneself.'”
Peace Corps and Trace TV
Last night a couple in New Haven hosted a gathering for Connecticut Returned Peace Corps volunteers. I love meeting other former volunteers – there are always wonderful stories to share. The best last night was when I said our son runs Trace TV in Nigeria. The host who had been in Mali shouted, “Oh, I love Trace TV. I watched it all the time!”
Of course, it has been big in Francophone Africa for years. He told the others, “It’s like MTV used to be – all music videos, all the time! It’s where I first heard Rihanna.”