Junior Meggett, 80, in the former slave cabin on Edisto Island, S.C., where his aunt and uncle lived in the 1940s. Mr. Meggett lived in a different but identical cabin.| Stephen Morton for The New York Times
Haunting Relic of History, Slave Cabin Gets a Museum Home in Washington
EDISTO ISLAND, S.C. — The floors creaked. The walls swayed in a strong breeze. Rot and termites had destroyed parts of the rickety structure built before the Civil War.
But when curators from the Smithsonian’s new African-American history museum in Washington visited this marshy island last year, they found exactly what they were looking for: an antebellum slave cabin that captured the stark life of plantation workers before emancipation.
Edisto Island is home to two of the nation’s oldest slave cabins, dating to the 1850s — vestiges of what was once an entire village for field workers at the Point of Pines Plantation. Black families lived in the wood-sided, two-room houses, without electricity or heating, until the 1980s.
Now, the better-preserved of the two cabins is getting a new home in the nation’s capital. The Smithsonian Institution is dismantling it, plank by plank, and moving it to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, which is scheduled to open on the National Mall in late 2015.
It will be among the featured artifacts, beside Harriet Tubman’s shawl, Nat Turner’s Bible, a Tuskegee Airmen fighter plane and Emmett Till’s coffin. Lonnie Bunch, the museum’s director, called it “a true jewel in the crown of our collection.”
“Slavery is the last great unmentionable in public discourse,” he said. “But this cabin gives an opportunity to come face to face with the reality of slavery. It humanizes slavery.”
For years, local historians had struggled to save the pinewood building. After the last residents moved out, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Three years ago, the plantation’s owners donated the cabin, but not the land, to the Edisto Historical Preservation Society.
The society raised $40,000 to clear away vines and install diagonal beams to stabilize the tilting 16-foot-by-20-foot structure. But it could not find enough money to safely move the cabin to a new location.
“Honestly, we were about to give up,” said Gretchen Smith, the society’s director.
The Smithsonian called just in time. The museum, with a budget of $500 million, had scoured the country for the right cabin. Its curator, Nancy Bercaw, said Edisto Island’s was perfect: it needed a new home, and because blacks had lived in it long after slavery, the museum can display it in an exhibit encompassing the postwar period called “Slavery and Freedom.”
“The sea island history is so rich and multigenerational,” Ms. Bercaw said. “This history has been tucked away. It hasn’t always been safe to pull out these stories.”
Last Monday, work crews from a preservation company called Museum Resources Inc. stripped off parts and labeled them. Modern additions like the tin roof and metal nails will be replaced. The rest will be transported to a restoration facility in Virginia before being rebuilt inside the museum.
The crews made several discoveries while taking apart the cabin. Newspapers had been stuffed inside the walls for insulation. Windows and door frames were painted with a faint blue paint, which historians say slaves from the Caribbean believed kept demons away.
The exact age of the cabin is unknown, although historians believe that it was probably built off-site and assembled at the plantation. Toni Carpenter, the founder of Lowcountry Africana, a group that documents black history in the South, said an 1851 map of the plantation showed the cabin at its present site. And, she said, an 1854 plantation inventory showed that 75 people were enslaved there.
One of the last residents who remembers life inside is Junior Meggett, 80, a retired groundskeeper, who grew up in the 1940s in an identical cabin and whose aunt and uncle owned the one given to the Smithsonian.
Winter nights were so cold that everyone huddled around the stone fireplace on cots, he said. Summers were so mosquito-infested that the fire burned constantly as insect repellent.
“It’s a tough place to live,” he said. “But we didn’t have any choice. It was just where you lived.”
The new museum is the Smithsonian’s first since the National Museum of the American Indian opened in 2004. It will span black history and culture from the African slave trade through the first black presidency.
Ms. Smith, from the historical society, said it was bittersweet to see the cabin leave the island after more than 160 years. She hopes to raise enough money to restore the second cabin and keep it on Edisto. But while South Carolina is losing this artifact, she said, “now millions of others can see it.”
Tania León, (born on May 14, 1943 in Havana, Cuba) is highly regarded as a composer and conductor and recognized for her accomplishments as an educator and advisor to arts organizations. She has been profiled on ABC, CBS, CNN, PBS, Univision, Telemundo, and independent films. She has lectured at Harvard University and at the prestigious Mosse Lecture series at the University of Humboldt in Berlin and was the Andrew Mellon Foundation’s Distinguished Scholar at the Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, South Africa. León was also Visiting Professor at Yale University, Guest Composer/Conductor at the Hamburg Musikschule, Germany and the Beijing Central Conservatory, China. Her honors include the New York Governor’s Lifetime Achievement Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Fromm, Guggenheim Fellowships, and Symphony Space’s Access to the Arts Award. León has also received Honorary Doctorate Degrees from Colgate University, Oberlin, and SUNY Purchase College, and has served as U.S. Artistic Ambassador of American Culture in Madrid, Spain. A Professor at Brooklyn College since 1985, she was named Distinguished Professor of the City University of New York in 2006. In 2010 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. One of her most notable career highlights has been a Latin Grammy nomination for her composition Inura in 2010. [x]
La Premiere bande-annonce pour le film d’animation Aya De Yopougon.
The movie sprung from the animated series written by Marguerite Abouet, illustrated by Clement Oubrerie, and edited by Gallimard in the collection of Bayou of Joann Sfar. The adapted (animated) movie is set to be released in July 17th 2013, in France, by Autochenille Production.
The series takes place in Yopougon, the most vibrant neighborhood of the city of Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. It relates the tales and daily life of Aya, her friends, family, and foes through exiting images and emotion-filled dialogues that are very familiar to the people of Cote d’Ivoire, more likely to the residents of Yopougon. A lot can happen in the city of Yopougon, or Yop-City, including drama, romance, tragedy, humor, and etc. And from the looks of it, the series has made a fantastic work in representing just about that.
“MoMA will hold the first American retrospective of the 56-year-old Mr. Williams beginning Aug. 2. That exhibition will then travel to the Art Institute of Chicago. The London show, at the David Zwirner gallery, runs through June 15.”
Christopher Williams / Mustafa Kinte (Gambia) Shirt: Van Laak Shirt Kent 64 41061 Mönchengladbach, Germany Dirk Sharper Studio, Berlin, July 20th, 2007. 2008
New blog post!
Dear Followers, this is a really good post. Please read it. ~RCJ.
Today at 2 p.m.: A Proposition by Center for Historical Reenactments: After-after Tears
“After-after Tears” explores the political dimensions of institutional suicide through reconsideration of temporality, duration, and history. Reflecting on the platform’s recent death, Gabi Ngcobo (Center for Historical Reenactments [CHR] member and faculty at Wits School of Arts in Johannesburg), in collaboration with artist Kader Attia, will contemplate how staging an institutional suicide can not only be a form of refusal but also a means to desire a different existence, one that enables the platform to haunt obsolete systems and ideologies that continue to condition contemporary life. A two-part response will expand upon various logics underpinning creative acts of refusal. Khwezi Gule, Chief Curator at the Soweto Museums, will delve into the crisis of meaning around ritual, sacrifice, and transcendence in addition to notions of self and collective preservation. Sohrab Mohebbi, writer and Curatorial Assistant of Public Engagement at the Hammer Museum, will consider measures of time in music that produce shared frames of reference in order to imagine ways institutions could also be synched to a different time signature.
For more information on the program, click here.
“Center for Historical Reenactments: After-after Tears” is on view at the New Museum from May 22 – July 7, 2013.