On Feb. 16, 1857, abolitionist, author lecturer and statesman Frederick Douglass was elected president of Freedman’s Saving and Trust Company, also known as the Freedman’s Savings Bank. The financial institution was a private corporation chartered by the U.S. government to guide the economic development of the newly freed African Americans after the Civil War.
Douglass would accept the post at the end of March 1874, as the bank was in dire straights, with distrusting consumers, debt and corruption. Initially, the bank saw notable successes as a leading institution of African Americans who wanted a place to invest their money to ensure their financial stability for life after the U.S. slave era, however, bad investments and wrongdoing on the part of previous leadership at the bank led to its downfall, closing its doors the same year. Today, the financial company’s archives are used as a valuable collection of information about the African American community and socio-economic life in the aftermath of emancipation.
The surviving documentation and papers of the bank archives illuminate the names, whereabouts and other relevant information about the veterans of the 7th Regiment United States Colored Troops and their transactions with the bank; the data is considered historically important in the study of African-American history.The bank’s records of 480,000 names, estimated to be the largest single repository of lineage-linked African-American records, has been indexed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The searchable database is available to amateur as well as professional genealogists. At the height of its success, the Freedman’s Savings Bank held assets worth more than $3.7 million.
“I returned from Africa,” he added, “with a single thought burning in my mind: We had to tell the story and keep our history alive as a charge of eternal vigilance.”
The first of its kind in the United States….
But this museum project appears no closer to reality than the last.
In 2001, Douglas Wilder, a former governor of Virginia and the first elected black governor in the nation, announced his intention to build a museum that would be the first to give slavery its proper due — not as a piece of Southern or African-American history but as essential to understanding American history in general. Christened the United States National Slavery Museum, it was to be built on 38 acres along the Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg, Va. Wilder, the grandson of slaves, commissioned C. C. Pei, a son of I. M. Pei, to design the main building, which would be complemented by a full-scale replica of a slave ship. A number of prominent African-Americans, including Bill Cosby, pledged millions of dollars in support at black-tie fund-raisers. The ambition that surrounded the project’s inception, however, was soon eclipsed by years of pitfalls. By 2008, there were not enough donations to pay property taxes, let alone begin construction; in 2011, the nonprofit organization in charge of the project filed for bankruptcy protection. As it happens, it was during the same period Wilder’s project unraveled that John Cummings, unburdened by any bureaucracies, was well on his way to completing a slavery museum of his own.
Am I Lost…As I Wander…. As I Wonder…..
I Wander As I Wonder….
The White House and the Capitol were built, in part, by slaves.
Wandering Does Not Mean I Am Lost….
“Slavery gets understood as a kind of prehistory to freedom rather than what it really is: the foundation for a country where white supremacy was predicated upon African-American exploitation.”
Slavery is by no means unmemorialized in American museums, though the subject tends to be lumped in more broadly with African-American history. In 2004, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center opened in Cincinnati with the mission of showcasing “freedom’s heroes.” Since 2007, the Old Slave Mart in Charleston, S.C., has operated as a small museum focusing on the early slave trade, on a site where slaves were sold at public auctions until 1863. The National Civil Rights Museum, which opened in Memphis in 1991 and was built around the Lorraine Motel, where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, offers a brief section devoted to slavery. Next year, the National Museum of African American History and Culture is scheduled to be dedicated in Washington as part of the Smithsonian Institution, a project supported by $250 million in federal funding; exhibits on slavery will stand alongside those containing a trumpet played by Louis Armstrong and boxing gloves worn by Muhammad Ali. “It has to be said that the end note in most of these museums is that civil rights triumphs and America is wonderful.” It is a fact “We are a nation that has always readily embraced the good of the past and discarded the bad. This does not always lead to the most productive of dialogues on matters that deserve and require them.”
Curious Wondering… Does Not Mean I Am Lost…….
On Dec. 7, the Whitney Plantation, in the town of Wallace, 35 miles west of New Orleans, celebrated its opening, and it was clear, based on the crowd entering the freshly painted gates, that the plantation intended to provide a different experience from those of its neighbors. Roughly half of the visitors were black, for starters, an anomaly on plantation tours in the Deep South. And while there were plenty of genteel New Orleanians eager for a peek at the antiques inside the property’s Creole mansion, they were outnumbered by professors, historians, preservationists, artists, graduate students, gospel singers and men and women from Senegal dressed in traditional West African garb: flowing boubous of intricate embroidery and bright, saturated colors. If opinions on the restoration varied, visitors were in agreement that they had never seen anything quite like it. Built largely in secret and under decidedly unorthodox circumstances, the Whitney had been turned into a museum dedicated to telling the story of slavery —
the first of its kind in the United States.
For Half Priced Books for Children and Adults!
Click the links below:
Dr. Ruby Mae Chapman, The Wisdom Store, Napolean & Ada Moton Chapman Institute, Children’s Advocate, Scholar, Researcher and Writer.
For more inspiring readings visit my blogs: