Monday, July 27, 2015

What About a One-of-a-Kind Museum?

A Richmond Times-Dispatch's editorial in this morning's paper sought to boost the efforts to put a museum in Shockoe Bottom.
...The Bottom and its extended neighborhood played central roles in the history of slavery and its aftermath. Human beings were bought and sold there. The protests served as reminders that neither Virginia nor the United States has directly addressed slavery, its consequences, which linger, and Jim Crow, slavery’s successor vehicle of oppression.
As well-intentioned as the concept presented by this editorial might be, the idea of creating a museum in Shockoe Bottom, to gather and present the history it mentions, may be too broad. That is, too broad to ever put together the backing to become a viable project. Although there is plenty that remains to be said about the topics of “slavery and its aftermath” and “Jim Crow,” a museum dedicated to presenting those stories would lack the special appeal of a more narrowly focused effort.

Couldn't such stories just as rightfully be told in any number of cities? What makes Shockoe Bottom's history peculiar is the huge slave market that was centered there in the decades running up to the Civil War.

Dig it: The establishment of the convenient mythology of the Lost Cause was accomplished in large part by implementing two strategies:
  • The fabricating and promulgating of a false history – school text books full of pickled history and a stately Monument Avenue help.
  • The covering up of evidence that could have told the truth.
What was it like to have been a Shockoe Bottom slave jail owner, or confinee, in pre-Civil War days? Who had given it much thought before the movie “12 Years a Slave” (2013) was such a big hit?

Now we're seeing the vestiges of the mythology's underpinning crumbling. Flags are being furled. However, the untold story Richmond could now reveal to the world is the one about its slave market era. Parts of that story still need to be dug up by archaeologists.

A one-of-a-kind museum devoted to unfurling the truth about life in Shockoe Bottom in the 1850s, with what must have been a rather bizarre atmosphere, might well prove quite interesting to the world's tourists. Those travelers might bring money with them, so it could turn out be a good investment, business-wise, in the long run.

Imagine that -- making money off of telling the truth! Either way, it would also be a fitting gesture of atonement.

No comments: