First off, I am very grateful for the opportunity to enter the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) an hour before the general public and to spend time with the museum staff. It was an experience I will never forget.
The History section of the museum left a lasting impression on me. While difficult at times to get through, I thought the linear story of slavery was thoughtful and well told. I remember taking pictures of the first person quotes (instead of only the objects) and listened to the audio of narrated accounts. At my museum, we are thinking of how to activate a newer history hall and audio accounts have been mentioned before. I would like to report back that not only do first person narratives activate a space, it can provide distinct, individual voices from the people in the exhibit stories. In this exhibit, this technique reminds the visitor to think of slaves as people and not property. I remember the story of ‘Priscilla,’ a ten year old girl who was sold into slavery in 1756 by slave traders in western Africa and then sent to Charleston, South Carolina. She was renamed, ‘Priscilla,’ and sold into slavery while on land. In the exhibit, the story of Priscilla is accompanied by slave owners’ records that reveal what little information known about her: she lived on more than one plantation and had ten children.
The museum text then follows what we do not know from these records: how she had to deal with new families after being kidnapped and sold to multiple plantations as well as living with strangers. I had not seen an exhibit label like this one before. One can only imagine that experience and perhaps feel empathetic towards Priscilla. I appreciated that the museum makes it clear there are parts of her story that are unknown; that have been silenced. It reminds people of the emotional strife and difficulties she would have face without a didactic or preachy tone. These documents show evidence that slave owners treated slaves as property and only recorded what would be important to them. Her story and audio clips of first person narration within this exhibit gives voices to individuals, or as a classmate mentioned today, “give a voice to the voiceless.” This effort by the museum becomes apparent by the attention to details such as pictures and titles. For instance, the museum puts a silhouette of a woman to represent Priscilla (as shown above) and titles her story “A Voice from the Lowcountry: Priscilla.” Priscilla can not be a forgotten person through this display. She is given a voice.