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Haunting Relic of History, Slave Cabin Gets a Museum Home in Washington

2013 May 19

By ROBBIE BROWN,NYT – EDISTO ISLAND, S.C. — The floors creaked. The walls swayed in a strong breeze. Rot and termites had destroyed parts of the rickety structure built before the Civil War.

But when curators from the Smithsonian’s new African-American history museum in Washington visited this marshy island last year, they found exactly what they were looking for: an antebellum slave cabin that captured the stark life of plantation workers before emancipation.

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Edisto Island is home to two of the nation’s oldest slave cabins, dating to the 1850s — vestiges of what was once an entire village for field workers at the Point of Pines Plantation. Black families lived in the wood-sided, two-room houses, without electricity or heating, until the 1980s.

Now, the better-preserved of the two cabins is getting a new home in the nation’s capital. The Smithsonian Institution is dismantling it, plank by plank, and moving it to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, which is scheduled to open on the National Mall in late 2015.

It will be among the featured artifacts, beside Harriet Tubman’s shawl, Nat Turner’s Bible, a Tuskegee Airmen fighter plane and Emmett Till’s coffin. Lonnie Bunch, the museum’s director, called it “a true jewel in the crown of our collection.”

“Slavery is the last great unmentionable in public discourse,” he said. “But this cabin gives an opportunity to come face to face with the reality of slavery. It humanizes slavery.” Read more…

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