Museums Art on Slavery | Transformation Mask | Ahasteen Comics 2018 | All White All Male History and more


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Removing a person’s name was a means of erasing their identity and imposing a “social death” that transformed enslaved persons into property rather than living individuals. Both historians and museum professionals have begun to realize the need for revising the way we frame and label the past, and to support this movement within museums.

…White people in every part of early America directly or indirectly benefitted from the “peculiar institution” of slavery. It created wealth for white families and oppressed the African-Americans forced to perform labor in service to them. This labor allowed wealthy men and women the luxury of free time and money to get their portraits painted at a hefty price by a well-known artist. As Athens notes, museums have the power to engage with an underscore this part of American history: “I think museums can play a part in social justice movements through honest, clear-eyed reassessments of the stories they tell, what those stories privilege, and what they obscure.” Restoring people of color to American museums isn’t just about editing collections or artwork on display, it must also address the labels we have attached to them for hundreds of years.

READ: Can Art Museums Help Illuminate Early American Connections To Slavery?

What took so long??? Massachusetts museums, thank you!





“Transformation Mask” does not simulate a specific Indigenous ceremony, but its digital transformation of the gallery is meant to emulate the experience of dancing and wearing a transformation mask. “The mask is about bridging, and my intent really was to bring the non-Indigenous viewer into that cultural world,” Hunt told Hyperallergic.  “When you go look at our masks you are generally going to a gallery or museum, and in that context the masks are not masks but rather sculptures, not something you can wear or interact with.”

The Audain Museum calls “Transformation Mask” a “hybrid between the physicality of a transformation mask and the ephemeral experience of being part of the transformation.” But the installation, and transformation masks in general, might better be understood as an interface. “They are an interface with the unseen, whether it be the spirit world or the internet,” Hunt said. Through his creation, the viewer briefly inhabits another experience, another world and culture.

READ: An Indigenous Artist’s Futuristic Vision of Traditional Transformation Masks


BRILLIANT Navajo Times editorial cartoonist Jack Ahasteen’s latest comic.  Source: Ahasteen Comics 2018 – Navajo Times

Yet, the recent all white male history conference held at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University seems to suggest a return to history’s dark age as a gentlemen’s protection society. Happily, the strong and growing presence of and disciplinary focus on women in history as well as the sharp criticism and condemnation (and rightly so) of the exclusive conference make clear that a return to great white men history and historians is a fantasy. Even so, the holding of this conference and others of its kind reflect the ongoing challenges women historians and women history face. The CCWH strongly condemns the choice of holding an all-white, all-male conference at Stanford University, and expresses concern regarding its implications for the historical profession and for its treatment of women in history.

READ: On Stanford’s All White Male History Conference – AAIHS  Why am I not surprised by this??? (shaking my head)


Thanks to Pete for this shock:  Report on United States human rights abuses in 2017


Ruth Hopkins: “Native Tribes Could Lose Federal Recognition of Tribal Sovereignty Under Trump”

From Teen Vogue, here.


When the news about the protest at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation against the Dakota Access Pipeline burst into the spotlight in 2016, Tristan Ahtone welcomed the chance for greater coverage of Native American issues.

GOOD READ: Nieman Fellow battles media stereotypes of Native Americans – Harvard Gazette


By LT (your intrepid reporter)

Hello Everyone! I think we will have spring here in western Massachusetts eventually. Not soon but someday.  The MA state government is now addressing our urgent need to address climate change. Good thinking! Last month, a Massachusetts judge found 13 activists who were arrested for sitting in holes dug for a pipeline to block construction “not responsible by reason of necessity” because the action was taken to avoid serious climate damage. See the “Valve Turners” video here.  (States step up better than the feds.)

I saved up some good reads that I hope you enjoy.

As much as I want to believe we are making progress on rewriting history with a more balanced view on the invasion and conquest of North American, I am reminded (by the story above) that the history industry is still a white male occupation, mostly. If you really think about this, this is really human rights abuse with creating a one-sided less-dreadful history for schoolkids. Museums in Massachusetts and other cities are finally waking up.

We have a long way to go but a new journey has begun.

Good news:  My brilliant colleague Mark Trahant (Shoshone-Bannock) has joined the Indian Country Today newspaper as editor and they are up and running and publishing again! Thanks to the National Congress of American Indians who bought the national Native newspaper from the Oneidas in New York. Here’s a great OP-ED by Associate Editor Vincent Schilling (Mohawk) on rewriting history.

I contributed an OP-ED to Indian Country Today on the Baby Veronica case a few years ago. Mainstream media wasn’t interested in publishing me or my views, despite the fact I’d studied adoption history, the Indian Adoption Projects (and this case) and published relevant anthologies (more than one!).

Expect great things from Mark and Vince on their new publication! Go take a read!

Thanks to everyone for reading this long post! XOX



Hunting down runaway slaves: The cruel ads of Andrew Jackson and ‘the master class’ | Osage Murders

A historian collecting thousands of runaway slave ads describes them as “the tweets of the master class” in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Source: Hunting down runaway slaves: The cruel ads of Andrew Jackson and ‘the master class’ – The Washington Post

Osage Murders for Oil

The Osage tribe in Oklahoma became spectacularly wealthy in the early 1900s — and then members started turning up dead. David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon describes the dark plot against them.

LISTEN: In The 1920s, A Community Conspired To Kill Native Americans For Their Oil Money : NPR






Slavery: ‘You Can Never Truly Understand What Happened Centuries Ago’

The Slave Cabin Project

By Leoneda Inge, [February 27, 2014]

There is no official count on how many slave cabins are left standing across the country today.  You might ask,  “Who’s counting?”

Well, the South Carolina-based Slave Dwelling Project is counting and so is the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Archaeologists at James Madison’s Montpelier estate in Virginia set out to locate where slave cabins once stood on its property.  And last week, a group of people helped re-build a part of that history.

The 2,700 acres at James and Dolley Madison’s Montpelier estate looked like a winter postcard when the 16 of us arrived for log cabin building school.

Our eyes got real big when we approached the worksite, and saw the huge pile of logs. We weren’t here to stack pre-fab, pre-cut pieces of wood to construct a slave cabin.

Read more:

How Slavery Led To Modern Capitalism

Bloomberg View  | by  Sven Beckert and Seth Rockman, The Huffington Post 2/24/2014

When the New York City banker James Brown tallied his wealth in 1842, he had to look far below Wall Street to trace its origins. His investments in the American South exceeded $1.5 million, a quarter of which was directly bound up in the ownership of slave plantations.

Brown was among the world’s most powerful dealers in raw cotton, and his family’s firm, Brown Brothers & Co., served as one of the most important sources of capital and foreign exchange to the U.S. economy. Still, no small amount of his time was devoted to managing slaves from the study of his Leonard Street brownstone in Lower Manhattan.

Brown was hardly unusual among the capitalists of the North. Nicholas Biddle’s United States Bank of Philadelphia funded banks in Mississippi to promote the expansion of plantation lands. Biddle recognized that slave-grown cotton was the only thing made in the U.S. that had the capacity to bring gold and silver into the vaults of the nation’s banks. Likewise, the architects of New England’s industrial revolution watched the price of cotton with rapt attention, for their textile mills would have been silent without the labor of slaves on distant plantations.

But as scholars delve deeper into corporate archives and think more critically about coerced labor and capitalism — perhaps informed by the current scale of human trafficking — the importance of slavery to American economic history will become inescapable.

Read more at:

Remembering racism and slavery in artifacts

Installing an Artifact in a Museum That Hasn’t Even Been Built Yet

For many, the most poignant symbols of segregation during the Jim Crow era are the four men who refused to leave a Greensboro lunch counter or the arrest of Rosa Parks after she refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery City bus.

But segregation, says Spencer Crew, a curator for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, was everywhere—even airplanes and train cars. After 1900, all southbound trains were divided into sections for whites and blacks, the former with more room for men’s and women’s lounges, luggage and hat racks, and spacious restrooms.

The train car provides a vivid backdrop for the inaugural exhibition on segregation that the museum will open with in 2015. The only problem: the nine-decade-old, 44-seat Southern Railway car, donated by railway executive Pete Claussen and his company Gulf & Ohio Railways, won’t be able to fit through the door once construction is finished.

In September 2013, the 153,900-pound passenger car, No. 1200, will dangle above the scaffold-ridden Washington skyline, lifted by cranes and then lowered onto the construction site on Constitution Avenue between 14th and 15th Streets—the first of two major artifacts that will be installed before the museum is built around it.

This train car, used for much of the early 20th-century as a segregated passenger car through the southern United States, will be installed Sunday on the National Mall—the first artifact for the future National Museum of African American History and Culture. All photographs courtesy of the museum

It’s the first time (as far as we can tell) artifacts have been installed into a Smithsonian museum before the building, or at least its shell, takes shape.

The George Washington in a toga statue by Horatio Greenough and the 1926 Pacific steam locomotive at the National Museum of American History and the Skylab at the National Air and Space Museum were put in place before construction was completed, Smithsonian curators say. But at American History, some walls had already been built around the artifacts, and at Air and Space, the roof was already up, making Sunday’s installation at the African American History Museum all the more unusual.

The rail car and prison tower will be lowered Sunday into the construction site of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Courtesy of NMAAHC.

Crews on Sunday will also install a more than 21-foot guard tower from the Louisiana State Penitentiary, one of the largest maximum-security prisons in the country nicknamed “Angola” for the 19th-century plantation that once stood on its land.

After final touches are put on the artifacts next week, the rail car and tower will be covered by protective structures so construction can continue around them.

The event, which is open to the public, will close roads for six hours (see details below), but it’s a milestone five years in the making.

Pete Claussen and Gulf & Ohio Railways donated the railway car—first built in 1918 as an open-window coach—to the museum in 2009.


Rail Car No. 1200 was restored by a team of 20 craftsman in Kentucky before it began its journey to the National Mall in Washington, DC.

In 1940, it was renovated to create separate seating, lounges and restrooms for black and white passengers. But the car was not simply divided in half: to accommodate the larger luxuries in the white seating section, nearly two-thirds of the train was dedicated to white passengers, leaving only a third of car for the “colored section.”

Segregation on trains isn’t documented as it was in schools or at water fountains, visuals that endure as one of the practice’s most common symbols, said Spencer Crew, a curator for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, who noted Frederick Douglass was among those kicked off of trains for refusing to sit in the black passenger car.

“The ability, or inability, to travel is a critical issue,” Crew says, one he plans to explore in the museum’s first exhibit that will tell the story segregation between the years 1876 and 1968.

The train car was in storage at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum in Chattanooga, before it was acquired by the museum. Renovations began in 2012 in Stearns, Kentucky, in preparation of this year’s arrival in Washington, a process that required 20 different tradesman, from electricians to metalworkers and painters.

The car was in fairly good condition when work began, said John E. Rimmasch, the CEO of Wasatch Railroad Contractors, who was charged with restoring the artifact. After the structural elements had been secured, workers went through the car and restored everything from the hat racks to the paint colors.

Once the car is installed in the museum, visitors will pass through it as they move through the exhibit—giving them a chance to “internalize [it] and feel what that was to walk from the white section of the car to the colored section of the car,” Rimmasch said.

As depicted in this rendering of the museum interior, visitors will be able to pass through Rail Car No. 1200. The museum will open in 2015

The interior of the prison tower won’t be accessible to the public once the museum opens, but Crew says it will help drive home the exploration of white power and black incarceration in the mid-20th century, which he’ll also feature in the exhibit.

Before the Louisiana State Penitentiary was handed over to the state, the land was used as a plantation that drew its workers from prisoners leased by the state. As a prison, Angola earned a reputation for the corruption that ran rampant behind closed walls, “the nearest kin to slavery that could legally exist,” Patricia Cohen once wrote in the New York Times.

From the more than 21-foot tower, wardens kept constant watch over the mostly-black prisoners at the facility, “a reminder that there was a constant effort to control their lives,” Crew said.

The Louisiana State Penitentiary donated this surveillance tower to the museum in 2012. The prison, known as Angola, was built on a former plantation and known for its widespread corruption in the early 1900s.


“The tower—and its role in the penal system—are important to the story I’m telling about the power of the tower and trying to keep African Americans under the control of others,” Crew said.

The Louisiana State Penitentiary donated the tower and a prisoner cell to the museum in 2012. This past July, the tower was taken down from the prison’s “Camp H” and transported to Stearns, to join the rail car.

Together, they made a three-day journey in a seven-vehicle convoy to Washington, DC,where they will serve as rare reminders of what segregation actually felt like for much of the 20th-century, Claussen says.

“You learn that separate but equal was certainly separate but it wasn’t really equal and that’s one of the things this demonstrates,” he says. “There are very few tangible pieces of segregation left. . .there are so few things you can [use to] actually experience what segregation was like and this was one of them,” he says.



Here is Rosa Parks, arrested after refusal to surrender bus seat to white passenger, today 1955: #NARA
Here is Rosa Parks, arrested after refusal to surrender bus seat to white passenger, today 1955: #NARA