Sometimes it’s not necessarily the information you retain but rather the perspective you gain that determines the impact of a museum visit.
I knew a lot of the information presented at the Underground Railroad Freedom Center before I went. I knew about the Declaration of Independence and I knew that the founding fathers were slave owners, but I’d never thought deeply about the true hypocrisy of our break from Britian. That’s not me throwing stones, that’s unfortunately the facts forming the reality of the situation:
Drafted by Thomas Jefferson, a wealthy slave owner from Virginia, the Declaration of Independence is largely an indictment of the King of England, listing the ways Britain had oppressed American colonists. The purpose was to justify the Revolution against English Rule.
While essentially a political document, the Declaration was tied to the problem of slavery in a number of ways. The Declaration proclaimed that “all men are created equal” and that they had the right to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” This language, while intended to justify American Independence from Britain, could also have justified slaves revolting against their masters. This surely was not the intention of slaveholder Jefferson.
Ironically, it was the proclamations of equality above from Jefferson (who died in 1806) that ultimately undermined the morality of slavery during the Civil War in 1865. After the release of the Declaration in 1776, English writer Samuel Johnson wondered: How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?
Another thing that’s crazy: This all didn’t happen that long ago. We are still feeling the affects of slavery on some level in the racial divide that we see today. And although not in its tradition form, an exhibit at the Freedom Center points out that slavery itself still exists in 2012. In 2009, there were 43 human trafficking prosecutions in the United States, split evenly between labor and sex trafficking.
I suppose I shouldn’t be entirely pessimistic, given the fact that “stationmasters” helped slaves to escape and hid them wherever they could – in houses, barns, and sheds. Some even made “false bottoms” on their wagons in order to transport people out of slavery. There are always going to be people in this world who are out for their own good, but there are always going to be those who wish no harm upon others, who treat others the way they wish to be treated. My hope is that we are able to get some of the latter into positions of decision making as we go forward into the future.
I suppose that little rant was my way of saying I enjoyed the exhibits of the Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati – it seemed to get my wheels turning. Be sure to check it out if you’re in the area or passing through town. With all the writing I’ve done and all the writing I’ve yet to do, I could not imagine being remembered for saying something so insane. See the photos below.
Photos from the Underground Railroad Freedom Center: