For the past few weeks, after my kids are in bed, I have had my nose buried in Ned and Constance Sublette’s quintessential soon-to-be-required-reading The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave Breeding Industry. (My thoughts on this book will be a whole nother post…) Through reading this, I came to understand that few images exist of slave auction houses, and the historical remnants of slavery have been persistently concealed.
While looking up sites to visit on a family vacation to Charleston, I came across The Old Slave Market Museum I was enthusiastic to visit this rare preservation of an auction building, but I hesitated because I would need to bring my three young daughters with me.
I worried: Is it appropriate for them? Is it going to be too scary?
But I really wanted to go. I really want my daughters to be educated about history and justice, even in a small way at their age. I want my daughters to see the joy I take in learning and the seriousness and purposefulness that I approach learning in my life.
And so we went. It was $8 per adult and free for children, so I knew that even if we spent a short time, it would be fine – not too expensive.
And so we went. My daughters love to look at maps, and we spent a little time discussing a map which showed how slaves were transported from Maryland and Virginia to other parts of the South – by chattel, train, river, and ocean.
My daughters mentioned that the people in the photos looked sad, and they didn’t like that people had to leave their families. They asked me about the shackles and told me that they didn’t want to wear them. They studied a plaque that showed how people who were enslaved were prepared for the auctions – shaved, dressed nicely, being fed more food in the weeks prior to sale.
I used some very simple questions (taken from Visual Thinking Strategies) to start discussions about the museum’s features: What’s going on in this picture? What more can we find?
We spent twenty minutes in the museum, and I was proud that I took my children, proud that they behaved well, that they were curious, and proud that I overcame my hesitation of bringing them.
After they went outside, I had the pleasure of speaking with History Interpreter Christine King Mitchell, who provided me with some wonderful booklists. She is working towards publication of a book of primary source materials, and she showed me a few copies of posters announcing slave auctions that will be included in her book.
Later that day, my oldest daughter informed me: “I want to be brown.” I realized we had not discussed the skin color of people displayed in the museum. She had also played with two girls who were black in the Charleston Waterfront Park Fountain that day. (Not unusual – my daughters go to a fairly diverse preschool and have played with children with all shades of skin.) So, I wondered why she wanted to be black. “Mom – I could wear bright pink lipstick if I was brown.”
She is interested in race, so it is my responsibility now to find some books about this and start talking a bit about skin. I don’t feel comfortable with the topic at all, but I know it’s important.