America Needs a Slavery Museum

I was listening to NPR on the radio the other day. They were reporting that the Martin Luther King Papers (having been sold by his money-grubbing children… oh wait back to the point) have been given to Morehouse (?) College in Atlanta who will build a museum to house them.

OK, good and fine.

Then Andrew Young, a man I think the world of, came on to say such a museum should deal with more than MLK, more than Civil Rights, and should address slavery.

My first thought, it is a radical sort of proposal of the sort made by ‘Black Leaders’ who want to provoke their base.

My second thought, where the heck is there an American museum about slavery? Shouldn’t there be one? Shouldn’t someone support education and research concerning the Peculiar Institution?

Heck, for years Germany did not have a (single national) museum dedicated to the Holocaust. Now it does.

OK, your thoughts?

There’s a national underground railroad museum/center in Cincinnati, Ohio.

I think we have one. It’s dedicated not to slavery so much as the road to its abolition. It’s called the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. I run past it every day at lunch. From it’s website:

A $110-million facility, the Freedom Center features three pavilions, celebrating courage, cooperation and perseverance. The story of freedom is woven through the heroic legacy of the Underground Railroad and the American struggle to abolish human enslavement and secure freedom for all people.

In addition to the fine museum in Cincy, there is a United States National Slavery Museum , which will open soon in Fredericksburg, VA.

In Milwaukee we have America’s Black Holocaust Museum I think there is a huge educational benifit to having many all over the country instead of one huge one.

The National Museum of American History includes slavery in their 19th Century exhibit.

Seems sorta silly to put MLK’s papers in a slavery museum, after all slavery ended almost a century before MLK’s death. Surely there’s a Civil Rights Museum, or at least a Civil Rights Collection somewhere that would make more sense. You’d risk diluting the point of a Slavery Musuem if you put everything that has to do with segregation, the civil rights movement, affirmative action, Jim Crow, eugenics, etc. in there as well.

It’s by no means focused on slavery, but the Museum of the African Diaspora recently opened here in SF.

If you ask me, there should be a museum on the Mall in Washington. We have a museum to the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust, but nothing to commemorate the equal number of Africans who died in the transatlantic slave trade, nor anything to celebrate the contributions to American culture made by those who survived. In fact, I think the absence of such a museum reflects willful forgetting on the part of the American people. The Mall is generally meant to reflect positively on our history, though the Vietnam Memorial – and we shouldn’t forget how controversial that was initially – began to expand our ideas of what was worth commemorating.

So yes, I agree with the OP, with the caveat that the museum shouldn’t focus entirely on slavery. Maybe a separate monument to the victims would be appropriate as well.

Six million people died in transit to the Americas? Nope, no way. I do not have the figures in front of me, but this sounds very, very wrong.

(Of course if you can correct me, I would be pleased indeed.)

While millions of Americans were held as slaves, the number brought to the US was much less than that. In the same way, the number of White settlers was less than you might think at first blush.

People breed like rabbits.

The numbers brought to the U.S. or its predecessor colonies was around 500,000 and the number of people who died in the middle passage to that destination were correspondingly smaller.

However, the numbers brought from all parts of Africa to all parts of the Americas and Caribbean basin were much larger.
Hugh Thomas, in his The Slave Trade: The History of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1440-1870, 1997, estimated that over 11,000,000 people were delivered to the Americas and that roughly the same number died in transit. The trade to the U.S. was substantially smaller than the trade to Brazil or (proportionally) Cuba or Haiti (before their revolt), and other places.

There will be. The Smithsonian is building a National Museum of African American History and Culture on the Mall next to the American History Museum.

National Museum of African American History and Culture

I left this here for a bit in case any serious controversy arose, but I do not really see a debate forming.

Off to IMHO.

[ /Moderating ]

Half of all African slaves died in transit? I realize that slavetraders weren’t too concerned with the well being of their cargos, but it seems they’d take steps if they were loosing half their potential profits due to mortality.

Guess I’ll have to look for the book.

Thanks… shows how out of date I am.

Re: the six million number: I was indeed talking about the whole transatlantic slave trade, as Tom indicates, not just the North American portion. Six million is a number I remember from my studies, but of course it’s an estimate, necessarily. Suffice it to say the number of deaths was large, and deserves to be memorialized in some fashion.

Um, cite for 500,000? This site claims that more than 550,000 Africans came through the slave port at Badary, Nigeria bound for America during the period of the American Revolution alone. That seems shockingly high, your cited number seems conservatively low.

That’s only part of the story. Whenever I hear these figures on slave deaths, these typically only account for the numbers of people in transit during the ocean voyage of the Middle Passage. These figures generally don’t include estimates of those Africans who died as a result of slave raids on villages. They don’t count the dead from intertribal wars where prisoners were initially sold into slavery. They don’t estimate those prisoners who died from injuries or exhaustion in forced marches in slave caravans en route to the coastal areas– bound, cuffed, often shackled by their necks. These estimates generally don’t keep track of the day to day deaths of people who were caged, processed and sequestered in West African ports like Badary, just prior to their change of possession from Arab and African slavers to possession by European slavers.

In other words, there’s plenty of bookkeeping that accounts for the deaths of Africans during the Middle Passage, but the deaths of those Africans due to slavery while still in Africa is still the the realm of conjecture and guesswork. That’s just the Transatlantic slave trade. The Arab slave trade went on for ten centuries.

Bottom line: the death toll was far significantly higher than 11 million for the western Transatlantic slave trade, which went on for 200 years. Include the eastern/western Arab trade, and at least one estimate I’ve read online goes as high as 140,000,000.

Sorry. The Transatlantic slave trade went on from roughly 1441 to 1888. When I said “200” was thinking mostly of the American involvement from 1619 until the 1830s, and when direct importation of black African slaves was made illegal.

Um, 1441? Did African slaves discover the New World? :wink:

Was that a mistype on your part or did Leif Ericsson bring slaves over? Columbus didn’t arrive in the Americas until 1492. and I find 22 million slaves a high number for trans-Atlantic movement. Does the author show how he estimated this number?

When I was a student at The College of William & Mary, wich is located adjacent to the Colonial Williamsburg open-air historical museum, an interesting incident occured.
Under charges that their depiction of Colonial life was “sanitized” they decided they would hold an historically accurate slave auction so as to open people’s eyes to the idea that Williamsburg was a slave-trading port. Bear in mind that the museum specializes in recreations of this very sort, although it usually runs to brickmaking demonstrations and political trials. You wouldn’t believe the shitstorm that followed.

Apparently both the local white and the local black populace found the idea highly objectionable and the plans were scrapped.