The path to healing begins with truth and ownership
Germantown is home to a historical treasure for divided times. The Lest We Forget Museum of Slavery offers a hands-on approach to understanding an appalling period in American history. Hundreds of genuine artifacts, memorabilia, posters, photos and documents chronicling every aspect of slavery: capture, passage, auction, escape, Emancipation and the enduring scars. Seeing and touching these items instantly connects visitors to the pain and suffering endured by Africans in America.
While “Lest We Forget” offers a candid examination of a dark and tragic time in our country’s past, it also celebrates the enduring strength and spirit of African American people. The museum’s mission is to familiarize the descendants of slaves and slaveholders with their past in a true and historical sense. The LWF Slavery Museum seeks to tear the scab of mystery and shame off the subject of SLAVERY, shining light on the enduring spirit of our African American ancestors who built this country and deserve to be seen.
By appointment only, admission $10. Presentations are suitable for all ages and ethnic groups (and can be customized for length/scope/focus/etc). LWF Slavery Museum is a partner of Historic Germantown. Founded, funded, curated and maintained by Joe and Gwen Ragsdale. Memberships start at just $35.
An Exercise in Empathy
Joe & Gwen Ragsdale’s collection provides a powerfully visceral experience, unlike any other American history museum you’ll find in the City. Here, the country’s white supremacist roots can’t hide behind carefully worded textbook entries. It’s impossible to miss the cold cruelty still resonating in shackles, nooses and Jim Crow-era propaganda.
There are also the many unforgettable faces and voices in the photos and books depicting the grim reality of life as an enslaved American. To hear a person’s story in their own words, is to walk in their shoes and bear witness to their truth. A video on LWF’s blog illustrates this beautifully: Joe reads aloud the first-hand account of one enslaved man’s fall from the graces of a sadistic owner.
(Transcription has been edited for print)
What I would like to do is read this story to you to see how you feel. What would you have done, if you were in his position? Now there’s a lot of language in this story, something I don’t usually do but I will here because I feel it really brings home the reality of the story.
The story is titled Massa’s Favorite, or “The Master’s Favorite”.
I was Massa’s favorite. I was head nigga responsible for keeping the other niggas in line. Nothing went down on that there plantation unless me and Massa knowed it. I was responsible for catching six niggas and then beatin the hide off of em — and it made me feel good. I just tore them niggas behinds up.
Some say Massa and me were so much alike that Massa must have just spewed me out of his mouth. And I could see how they could say that. We looked so much alike, except that I was darker and my nose was flatter. And my hair was, well, black and knotty. Otherwise you couldn’t tell us apart. You would think we were kinfolk.
One thing I heard a lot about Massa. I heard that he had raped my mama. Massa could really be my daddy. Maybe Massa and me were kin?
I got me a woman (Massa had broken in for himself). But you know what, she gave me four boys. All of them good boys. They’re all good kids. But the favorite of mine is Sam.
Now that Sam, that boy was my pride and joy. He was sharp. He was a nigga boy, but he was not bad. Massa’s blood must have been running in his veins. And he would laugh and everybody would join in. Other niggas would say he’s too sweet, he can’t be your son. But he was. I told you he was a lot like Massa.
Why one day, when Massa came out of the slavequarters, he slipped on some cow dung. And went a flyin. Boy, his hat went one way and his wig went the other, and down came Massa right in that cow stuff. And now everybody’s seen it. But no one dared laugh.
Then all of a sudden, a great jolly laugh could be heard. It was loud and hard and seemed to bounce off the trees. But this time nobody joined it. And it seemed with every chuckle it just bounced around.
I looked around and I saw who was laughing and I begged Massa to forgive him. He was only eight years old! I told Massa that I would take his lashes. I said “Massa don’t do this. I’ll punish him. I’ll punish him good.” But Massa just said to me, “Get the whip and gather the rest of the niggas.”
Massa made me beat him again and again. Up went my arm, down came the whip on his bare back. Up went my arm, down came the whip and tore his back open. Over and over and over again. How that picture played out in my head over and over again. How I wish I was dead. I could hear his voice scream every lash. I can hear him cry. Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, please. I’m sorry. 30 times, one for each lash.
I buried Sam two days later. Too weak, too young to take all them lashes. All he could say was “I’m sorry, daddy. I am so sorry.” All I could think is how sorry I am. Cause I ain’t Massa’s favorite no more.
I ain’t head nigga no more. Massa’s sold me. Saying he couldn’t trust me and didn’t want me around. On this here new plantation, I’m just another nigga. No one in particular. No one special. On this plantation lives a broken nigga who killed his boy at Massa’s command. I hate Massa with all that’s in me. But I hate me, most of all.
Your assistance helps LWFSM provide critically-important information about a period in history that continues to impact our communities and shape world-wide perceptions about African Americans. Thank you for helping acknowledge — and honor — the contributions of so many enslaved descendants upon the birth and prosperity of our nation.
The LWFSM is a non-profit organization that could not exist without private donations and community support. There are many ways to make a difference! Schedule a visit or virtual tour, shop their online books/videos/merchandise, become a member or simply make a donation in any amount (donations are tax-deductible). And it’s always free to tell a friend about this outstanding local resource.