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Monday, March 02, 2009

The Richmond Reconciliation Museum

First off I want to say Lumpkin's Jail and Richmond's past as the center of the home grown slave trade should be commemorated with a museum and interpretive center. One of the first steps should be to move the poorly placed reconciliation statue currently sitting catty corner to a strip club and next to a parking garage. Hundreds (thousands) of cars zip past it daily without giving it a glance or knowing it even exists.

Secondly, there's no reason cannot coexist with a mixed use development, ballpark or no. Does anybody think it inappropriate to have the Richmond Holocaust Museum in the basement of a renovated Tobacco Row building? It's a wonderful, moving place to visit. It's a false choice to say we only have one or the other.

Thirdly, should this be the "National" slavery museum? There will be a "National" museum partly devoted to slavery just 100 miles north, the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History. There is nothing wrong with a well funded smaller museum. Linked as part of the slave trail, the burial ground, various sites commemorating Gabriel Prosser we can put together a string of sites worthy of a cultural tour. Doug Wilder, with all his dignitas and influential friends got practically nowhere with his "national" museum. In a New York Times article he made some interesting comments regarding the comfort level of both blacks and whites regarding the commemoration of slavery.

More whites are interested in it,” he said. “They know that it’s a story that needs to be told.” But within the African-American community, he said he found “a subliminal resistance — not spoken, it’s not articulated. It’s an uncomfortable thing.”

This is not to say there should not be a museum, but a frank reminder that we are walking on shaky emotional and political ground. There are more than a few people that would and will use race to promote their own questionable political agenda. Do we want a museum that reflects the values of Martin Luther King or Molefi Kete Asante and his recent address at MLK Middle School. The question for me is not only how we teach history of slavery, but how we teach reconciliation. There's no point in teaching the former if we don't promote the latter.

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