A white lawyer builds the first slavery museum in America

On Dec. 7, John Cummings, a 77 year-old, wealthy trial lawyer opened the first slavery museum in the Americas. The museum, the refurbished Whitney Plantation, in the town of Wallace, 35 miles west of New Orleans, took Mr. Cummings seven years to build, with the aid of Senegalese researcher, Ibrahima Seck.

According to the New York Times article:

As a descendant of Irish laborers, he has no direct ties to slaveholders; still, in a departure from the views held by many Southern whites, Cummings considered the issue a personal one.  “If ‘guilt’ is the best word to use, then yes, I feel guilt,” he said. “I mean, you start understanding that the wealth of this part of the world — wealth that has benefited me — was created by some half a million black people who just passed us by. How is it that we don’t acknowledge this?”

While Germany has acknowledged the Holocaust, by building several museums to it, as one observer notes:

Forty-eight years after World War II, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum opened in Washington. A museum dedicated to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks opened its doors in Lower Manhattan less than 13 years after they occurred. One hundred and fifty years after the end of the Civil War, however, no federally funded museum dedicated to slavery exists, no monument honoring America’s slaves. 

So Cummings set about  building the first slavery museum in the Americas with his own money. And according to most observers the museum offers a pretty unflinching portrayal of plantation slavery in the US South.
The most challenging part of the tour of the museum comes at the end with a soon to be completed exhibit,

... dedicated to the victims of the German Coast Uprising, an event rarely mentioned in American history books. In January 1811, at least 125 slaves walked off their plantations and, dressed in makeshift military garb, began marching in revolt along River Road toward New Orleans. (The area was then called the German Coast for the high number of German immigrants, like the Haydels.) The slaves were suppressed by militias after two days, with about 95 killed, some during fighting and some after the show trials that followed. As a warning to other slaves, dozens were decapitated, their heads placed on spikes along River Road and in what is now Jackson Square in the French Quarter. 

Cummings says:

“It’ll be optional, O.K.? Not for the kids,” said Cummings, who commissioned Woodrow Nash, an African-­American sculptor he met at Jazz Fest, to make 60 heads out of ceramic, which will be set atop stainless-steel rods on the lagoon’s small island. “But just in case you’re worried about people getting distracted by the pretty house over there, the last thing you’ll see before leaving here will be 60 beheaded slaves.”

The story is worth reading in its entirety here.

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