(RNS) — The pew from a church where Black people once were relegated to the balcony.
A pair of stained-glass windows honoring Confederate generals that were removed from Washington National Cathedral.
A Bible used during the study session at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on the night when nine people were killed. These and other religious artifacts are among the 175 objects featured in a new exhibition on the Reconstruction period, the time after U.S. slavery had recently been outlawed, at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington. The exhibition, titled “Make Good the Promises: Reconstruction and Its Legacies,” opens tomorrow, September 24, on the museum’s fifth anniversary.
Curators and other museum experts said those artifacts demonstrate the resilience of African Americans in those times — when more than 4 million people moved from slavery to freedom — and underline the lingering racism that continues in America.
NMAAHC Director Kevin Young, speaking during a virtual news conference Wednesday, said the museum was grateful to receive artifacts belonging to a survivor as well as to someone killed in the 2015 massacre at the AME church in Charleston, South Carolina.
“It’s really powerful to see the parable of the sower being one of the things being taught that day, to see the Bible with the page folded down,” he said, of an item that is on loan for the exhibition. “I think that’s a reminder of this legacy, but also religion as both a balm but also as a site of, unfortunately, this conflict in this moment.”
After the massacre, leaders of the National Cathedral decided to remove stained-glass windows depicting Confederate generals Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. The Lee window is now on loan from the cathedral in the new exhibition.
The United Daughters of the Confederacy paid for the 1953 window honoring Lee, including a plaque that described him as “a Christian soldier without fear and without reproach.”
The cathedral is scheduled to hold an event Thursday during which it will announce plans for replacements for the windows, which will be designed by a “world-renown artist” and be installed above stonework inscribed with words by a poet who is a Pulitzer Prize finalist.
Spencer Crew, the museum’s emeritus director, said the balcony pew, which is on loan from The Charleston Museum, tells a story of change that occurred during Reconstruction in a church on Edisto Island, South Carolina.
“It says an awful lot,” he said. “That was in the balcony, where the enslaved had to sit and listen to sermons, sermons that probably told them to be good servants, to obey their masters.”
American Civic Life
American Civic Life