Talking About The Tough Stuff

How does one discuss a topic that history seemingly forgot to mention in our text books? Today on our visit to Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington, we learned a great deal about the slaves that George and Martha had. I had never considered Washington having slaves, nor do I ever remember learning about Washington having slaves in history class growing up. Yet, it makes sense given the world he lived in.

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So when you have guests come to your museum and they are surprised by its content- how do you handle it? How do you even begin to discuss it? As one interpreter told us so eloquently- with “truth, dignity, and grace.”

Mount Vernon’s exhibit, “Lives Bound Together,” attempts to create the scene of what it may have been like for slaves living on the ground of Mount Vernon under Washington. The exhibition is wonderful and rather in-depth. The interpreters on the ground really try to give you a sense of the opinions and views of the people that would have worked and lived during the time of Washington (and some with him).

Thinking back to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, I ponder the slavery exhibition. Again, not an easy topic to discuss for many. Yet, the exhibition was so powerful and so immersive, but done with such grace. I felt the history being discussed and walked away with an immense gain of knowledge.

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I realize history is not always pleasant to discuss- there have been incredibly tragic moments. Yet, as a museum, we have a responsibility to discuss history, no matter how unpleasant or how it may make one person appear (even if history has taught us a different view). We must use these lessons of history as teachable moment to hopefully avoid future occurrences. Wednesday we are going to the Holocaust museum and I am very interested to see how this story is portrayed through their exhibitions.