White Man Starts Country's First Slave Museum, Will Include Decapitated Heads | Kulture Kritic
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White Man Starts Country’s First Slave Museum, Will Include Decapitated Heads

black history

White Man Starts Country’s First Slave Museum, Will Include Decapitated Heads

child slave statue

April V. Taylor

Retired trial lawyer John J. Cummings III recently wrote a piece for the Washington Post explaining why he poured $8 million and 15 years of his life into opening the country’s first museum dedicated to telling the story of slavery. A country’s museums are meant to help it understand its own history as it shares it with others. Museums “create a common space and language to address collectively what is too difficult to process individually. Cummings says that he has no ulterior motives and no intention of earning back the money he has spent; he simply wants to tell the story of slavery.

Cummings is telling the story by restoring Whitney Plantation, a former slave plantation located in Wallace, just west of New Orleans. The town has just 670, 90 percent of whom are Black and many who are the descendants of slaves and sharecroppers. In regards to people questioning whether or not he is a “honky trying to profit off of slavery,” or if he undertook the project out of white guilt, Cummings responds by stating, “Don;t you think the story of slavery is important? Well, I check into it, and I heard you weren’t telling it, so I figured I might as well get started.”

Tulaen history professor Laura Rosanne Adderley has visited the Whitney Plantation museum twice since its opening, describing it by stating, “Everything about the way the place came together says that it shouldn’t work. And yet for the most part it does, superbly and even radically…the Whitney has figured out a way to mourn those we as a society are often reluctant to mourn.”

Most restored plantations in the area make money by hosting social events, and most of the visitors are white. Whitney Plantation is different, with most of their visitors being Black. Cummings has erected a Black angel embracing a dead infant in honor of the 2,200 enslaved children who died in Wallace in the 40 years before the Emancipation Proclamation.

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The most provocative part of the museum by far is a memorial dedicated to the victims of the German Coast Uprising. Most history books do not mention the January 1811 event when 125 slaves walked off their plantations, wearing homemade military garb, and began marching down River Road toward New Orleans in a planned revolt.  After two days, militias overtook the group, killing some 95 people. In a horrific message to other slaves, dozens of those who were captured were decapitated. Their heads were placed on spikes along River Road and what is now Jackson Square in the French Quarter.

When discussing the piece, which was completed by Black sculptor Woodrow Nash, Cummings points out that while the piece is disturbing, “It happened. It happened right here on this road,” referring to River Road. The history of slavery in America is morbid and violent. Mississippi has a particularly violent and remaining relationship with slavery, with the state just formally ratifying the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, in 2013.

Cummings has taken major steps to make sure the full story of slavery is told. He has plans to build an institute for the study of slavery adjacent to Whitney Plantation. The museum may very well serve as a starting point for the United States being able to come face to face with the ugly truth of slavery and forge some common path forward by acknowledging it and understanding it.

Paul Brown was one of Whitney’s first visitors. In summing up his experience there, he stated, “I wish some of my white co-workers would come to this place. They’d understand me in ways they’ve failed for 30 years.”



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  1. Iya Kai

    August 19, 2015 at 2:34 pm

    That’s not the first slavery museum. The Lest We Forget Black Holocaust Museum of Slavery in Philadelphia was established by J. Justin and Gwen Ragsdale, an African American couple, over 5 years ago. They don’t have as much money as the white man, but, the exibits are powerful! The Ragsdale’s presentations are informative and moving. They also have travelling exhibits. Gwen has also won awards for her film, “My slave sister, myself.” Check it out: http://lwfsm.com/

    Don’t give the white man credit for something we have already done. He is not the first!

    • Felicia

      August 22, 2015 at 7:36 am

      Thank you! Others responding to your post must didn’t read the article which stated this opened the first slavery museum in this country which isn’t true. Yes it’s great that he had the passion to tell our ancestors story, but why didn’t this article mention the African couple that opened a slavery museum? I’m tired of white people taking credit for everything that others have done.

      • Seana

        August 22, 2015 at 2:27 pm

        Thank you for making that valuable correction I only submit this to be truly fair but it was not the gentleman that built the museum that wrote the article so in all fairness is he taking credit? Or is the author who I believe it black state something inaccurate… ijs

    • Bren

      August 22, 2015 at 11:10 am

      PREACH! Thank you!

    • Bab Ann

      August 22, 2015 at 12:23 pm

      Thank you for your viable information. I’m a Civil Rights baby I’m for the advancement of my people but sometimes people are not going to hear us. It’s an old saying it’s more than one way to skin a cat in other words the black museum I would love to visit one day. I plan when I retire to travel the country and visit museums. Black or white it doesn’t matter to me because I love history. What I’m saying is his museum because he’s white can reach the audience it needs to to help create change in this country. IJS

    • katina leday

      August 22, 2015 at 1:43 pm

      What’s the address to the museum.

    • Jarman

      August 22, 2015 at 4:22 pm

      This proves the author knows nothing about the subject matter.

    • Stephanie

      August 22, 2015 at 5:10 pm

      Thank you for that information. I will make thus one my family’s vacation trips for next summer, especially since we are so close to Pennsylvania.

  2. Brenda Malry

    August 22, 2015 at 6:52 am

    Maybe he is not the first to open up a BLACK SLAVES MUSEUM, I appreciate him doing this by the way, no matter what race he is, that shouldn’t matter what matter is he did it where he deemed necessary.


  3. Barbara

    August 22, 2015 at 7:12 am

    The more Museums we have the better. It doesn’t matter who sets them up.

    • Ahmasi

      August 22, 2015 at 4:54 pm

      I agree the more museums the better but I disagree that it’s not important who sets them up. It’s quite possible to set up a ‘slavery museum’ whose purpose and agenda is to rationalize and justify slavery. It all depends on the person or persons point of view and what their agenda is! We should examine each institution with a critical eye to see just what is the underlying message. All institutions are created by people; people can lie and they can create institutions that follow that lie! I’m glad that he opened this museum and his motives seem to be honest and truthful but we should not take that for granted. Not everyone likes us or cares about us (big surprise there) and, in fact, want to do us harm in a variety of ways. There are those whites who believe that enslavement was ‘uplifting and civilizing’ experience; others deny the horror of slavery while still others think we deserved to be enslaved and if they had their way…well! So we must be attentive and critical towards anyone and anything that purports to tell our story! Who’s telling OUR story? What are their motives and what is their agenda? This gentleman seems to be on the up and up as far as his desires to open this museum but that may not necessarily be the case when and if the next one comes along! Can you imagine those confederate flag lovers opening a museum on slavery?

  4. Susan

    August 22, 2015 at 7:45 am

    Kudos to him! He was able to invest in something that he believed in! Unfortunately, our counterparts don’t take things seriously until someone other than our people take a stand and it took a lot of courage for him to create that museum as well as time.

  5. Tasha

    August 22, 2015 at 8:05 am

    However the enslavement museum in Selma, Al was life changing for me. I used to go almost every year, for 10 years, w/ the youth from my city and then my 5th grade Civil Rights Class. It’s not just a museum but a simulated experience, if you can imagine. From the time you step foot on the side walk you become one. Even being crammed onto a small boat against a backdrop of waves.
    Ancient Africa, Enslavement, & Civil War Museum
    1410 Water Avenue
    Selma, AL 36703

  6. Tasha

    August 22, 2015 at 8:07 am

    Also in real life Enslaved Africans were sold/auctioned off on the very ground the museum is. I swear you can feel it.

    • Bennet

      August 23, 2015 at 12:10 am

      I hear melanin has memory.

  7. H.bill Maxet

    August 22, 2015 at 8:14 am

    I appreciate your interest in informing America of some of the devastating autrosities that disrespected and in some cases destroyed African American reality. I have heard stories of Slaves being decapitated and exhibited down town for young white girls and women to see. The message was to plant the seed, ” blacks or inferior”, they are demand ants of m of jungle animals(monkeys, apes, and gorillas specifically. (They are not human), this is why the
    President of the U.s. wife Michelle Obama was described as a harangatan!. In a news paperin the south. I believe that a vast majority of Americans don’t have full knowledge of American Historu. Remember over 280. Years of Black History. Was not printed in America’s history book, forb obvious reasons.

  8. Sarah

    August 22, 2015 at 8:31 am

    I learned about slavery since I was a child about 50 years ago. What my ancestors and others went through is horrible, despicable, shameful and barbaric. Just reading about slavery and hearing others before me tell the story, makes me sick. As a child, I was told that my grand mother died because of the harsh treatment by the slave masters. I never had the privilege of knowing her. Imagine how I feel every time I think of her. My mother never knew her either. Imagine what that did to my mother. Taking about it now or opening up museums don’t me a dam thing. What we want is reparations.

    • Leonard Langdon

      August 22, 2015 at 5:11 pm

      Well said reparations now

    • Carola

      August 23, 2015 at 10:13 am

      The only slave museum I’ll ever visit is the one started by African Americans. White people will talk about slavery and the atrocities. They will do shows about blacks being lynched but they will never speak of reparations.

      • Iya Kai

        September 8, 2015 at 9:01 am

        TRUTH! Ashe on that!

  9. Bruce Blake

    August 22, 2015 at 9:19 am

    Who opened the Slave museum first is not the most important thing. This sounds like a great experience and we should be able to give credit where credit is due. The article stated that most of the visitors to this plantation are black, so those that perhaps those who most need to learn about the history of slavery will never see it.

    • Iya Kai

      September 8, 2015 at 8:38 am

      It’s important to get the facts correct. That’s why our history is misrepresented and twisted now. Stop giving others credit for what WE have done! Do you want someone taking credit for work you have done? The fact is, his museum is NOT the first. The museum in Philly has been around for years with authentic artifacts from the enslavement of our ancestors. I don’t know what slant hismusem will take, but SUPPORT YOUR OWN PEOPLE!

  10. Greyfox

    August 22, 2015 at 10:19 am

    There can never be too many museums telling our history. Instead of getting upset that a Caucasian used his wealth to tell our story, get upset that all the African American with wealth are not doing it. I will take my grandchildren to visit any location as long as it truthful and educational. There were always good whites backing our people, we didnt do it alone, always remember that. Dont be a racist yourself.

    • Leonard Langdon

      August 22, 2015 at 5:15 pm

      Come on African can’t be racist.

    • Iya Kai

      September 8, 2015 at 8:48 am

      No-one is getting upset, I’m just correcting the story which put forth false information. The fact is, his musem is NOT the first. Period.

      I’m glad you support white folks telling our history from their point of view. Just make sure they get the story straight.

      You must not understand what racism is. Black people in America have no power to deny whites anything. Racism is perpertuated through the institutions in a society and come with power over those being oppressed. We don’t control those institutions nor do we have that power.

      I am a race woman which means I put my people and our concerns FIRST! I will always stand up for TRUTH, my people and will not apologize for it.

      No PEACE without POWER

  11. Sasha

    August 22, 2015 at 10:48 am

    I am so glad that some of you have mentioned there were other museums about slavery already. It amazes how the man who starts the museum in New Orleans on the one hand wants to say he started this museum because he checked into and nobody else was doing it,but he forgot the fundamental problem that majority of white people suffer from which is not acknowledging, dealing with or interacting with black people so that if he would have then he would have known there are plenty of museums around the country some big and some small that he would’ve known already existed before he started his project. It’s best to consult and ask the people who have suffered and are still suffering from the traumas of slavery how can I as a white man HELP in putting a museum together that talks about slavery, are there other museum that already exist that talk about slavery? Just a thought

  12. Tammy Gibson

    August 22, 2015 at 11:35 am

    Thank you for saying that. I was at The Lest We Forget Black Holocaust Museum of Slavery yesterday and it is by far the BEST museum, I’ve been too. I travel around the U.S. going to African American historical places. I will be there today for a fundraiser.

  13. Jackie

    August 22, 2015 at 11:58 am

    I think people have lost all concept of what the intention is… The Mis Education of the NEGRO. A museum that tells our story is important no matter who tells it. What is important is that we show the YOUTH OF TGE WORLD, then they could understand “BLACK LIVES MATTER”

  14. Jackie

    August 22, 2015 at 12:00 pm

    I think people have lost all concept of what the intention is… The Mis Education of the NEGRO. A museum that tells our story is important no matter who tells it. What is important is that we show the YOUTH OF THE WORLD, then they could understand “BLACK LIVES MATTER”

    • Iya Kai

      September 8, 2015 at 8:54 am

      It does matter and IS important who tells our story. Can you imagine Jews supporting a holocaust museum established by a descedant of a Nazi? I think not.

      Whites have never told the truth about our history. Why do you think they are going to start now?

  15. Shirl

    August 22, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    Oh yes it does matter who open it firs. Tell the Jews that it doesn’t
    matter that the Germans open the Holacaust Museum first,

    Why can’t we never understand we are the problems/you got to
    give credit to the First Slave Museum was open by 2 black people.

    Go to Selma AL and go tp Pa and support your own people telling the
    story. That is what White would do they wouldn’t want you telling
    their stories or other races. Please !!

    • Leonard Langdon

      August 22, 2015 at 5:18 pm

      You’re absolutely right none but ourselves can heal our kind.

  16. shirl

    August 22, 2015 at 12:07 pm

    Correction who open the Slave Museum First. Excuse typos

  17. Loretta

    August 22, 2015 at 12:58 pm

    Yes it is very important that the history of all people and events are documented and told. However, it seems that until a White person tells the stories, that have already been told, we do not recognized it. Fact check who really invented the cell phone and many other things. After many years the true writer of the story that the Matrix is based on is just being recognized.

  18. Wendell

    August 22, 2015 at 2:49 pm

    Don’t you understand? Nothing means anything in America until some white people are involved with it or affected by it. Likewise, When the police kill an unarmed white person you will see some swift action(s) taken.

  19. chosinfew

    August 22, 2015 at 5:30 pm

    America’s Black Holocaust Museum (ABHM), located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was the only memorial dedicated specifically to the victims of the enslavement of Africans in the United States. It was founded by James Cameron, the United States’ only known survivor of a lynching.

    Cameron died in 2006; in 2008, the museum’s board of directors announced that the museum would be closed temporarily because of financial problems. ABHM re-opened as a virtual museum in 2012.

    Chosinfew – one of the Frozen Chosin

  20. Leonard Langdon

    August 22, 2015 at 5:37 pm

    None but ourselves can heal our kind.
    only we can tell our story if it’s from anyone else it’s their story. one must ask, why is this man doing this now? is it because Africans are realising who they are and are demanding reparations world wide and are not going to be fobbed off by any one???

  21. Ron Ramseur

    August 22, 2015 at 5:45 pm

    What is a comment of a white man profiting on the blacks death at the hands of white hate is in the wrong view. It was out duties to push the presses to hear what we’re saying but as like always the system always provided to all white people the right of passage to profit. But we are the legacy and should push it become the history of the Holocaust about white butchery and murders in USA for the Black and Native American Indians. What is a deep scar they don’t wan’t to see as Nazi denied they murdered Jews and the record excluded black that were also murdered because it look better in the eyes of the people whites being murdered than blacks.

    Its you move to take control of your Holocaust and rename your murders of your people because it is history and the story has a purpose to show why BLM is more than just symbols but accounts of real . What cut my gut is how it so brushed over and those who knew get so worked up when the truth come and they say its preaching when we speak but the truth they don’t want to hear or deal with the murder or killings of an innocent black person or native because it a white thing and there words always have merit

  22. Otim

    August 22, 2015 at 6:39 pm

    People who have not the pride to record and teach their history will not long have the virtues to make history worth recording, and no people who are indifferent to their past need ever hope to make their future great!

  23. James Love

    August 22, 2015 at 9:38 pm

    Thank you John Cummings III for your contribution of this magnificent exhibit. I was impressed that it was not about profiting but so what if it was. You deserve to be compensated especially if you spent out of your pocket some eight million dollars. As you said, “Well, I check into it, and I heard you weren’t telling it, so I figured I might as well get started.” It matters little to me who tells the story just so long as the story gets told. We can check accuracy and motives at a later time.

  24. Snuggie

    August 23, 2015 at 8:29 am

    Do you bill,Cosby doing this no he’s out drugging and rapping black female stop the hating

  25. Clark

    August 23, 2015 at 4:57 pm

    Visited this plantation a few months ago and it was one of the most emotional tours I’ve ever experienced. Before anyone goes off about who should or should not be telling the story, please experience it for yourself. The tour guide, a black woman is very knowledgeable of everything about the Cummings family and the surrounding area. It’s a very well spent hour and a very educational experience in regards to the history of slavery in the south.

  26. BEULAH Okonkwo

    August 24, 2015 at 1:47 am

    Somebody needs to tell it, if we can’t tell it! Let him tell it! But I am not going to pay him money to visit it!

  27. Omega Shabazz

    September 11, 2015 at 2:49 pm

    Is he telling OUR Story or His story? My grandmother was a slave until she was twelve years old. Nobody can tell a story about a life they did not live. He can tell the story of how his ancestors destroyed and degraded my ancestors, but he can’t tell the story of what it felt like to see your man or your son hanging from a tree and watching his ancestors having a PICNIC under the swinging bodies. When whites tell the story about slavery they always manage to make it seem like it was our fault and we deserved to be their slaves. When you listen to THEIR story you almost feel sorry for them. I can remember going to the movies back in the 50’s cheering for Tarzan, and Jungle Jim and getting angry with the Africans for hurting Tarzan. see Tarzan was Their story. Well I guess you all know how old I am. But I am from the south and I can remember the stories my grandmother told me about her experience as a slave and being a Black woman in the south. Trust me Blacks literally caught pure hell and I don’t believe there is a white man walking, riding, or flying that is capable of telling OUR true story. We certainly can’t tell a story about what it felt like to be a slave master or captain of a slave ship or what it felt like to enjoy seeing Black men and women hung. WAKE UP PEOPLE, IT CAN’T BE DONE. I’m out.

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