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An overgrown garden in Celebrate Virginia was to have evolved as part of a National Slavery Museum.
IN RECENT explorations of my neighborhood, Fredericksburg, and the surrounding area, my wife and I chanced upon the unkempt, overgrown fenced area that I later learned was known as the Spirit of Freedom Exhibit Garden and the proposed home of the United States National Slavery Museum. The untidy and overgrown area was a disappointing sight, to say the least.
The site's dilapidated state struck an even more profoundly harsh tone in relating America's propensity for moving on at the cost of education, awareness, and soul-searching. As important as it is for us as a society to have a vision of where we want to go, it is equally important for us to be aware of where we have come from.
I am black, my wife is white, and my children are proud scions of a happy and successful marriage. Our love is emboldened by the tragedy that was American slavery, the endurance of the human soul, the precedent for an ensuing civil rights movement, and so on. I truly feel that we represent what America could become, should become, and can become. I am optimistic about a visionary utopian American society. But it is imperative that we as a people never forget our past, lest we be doomed to repeat it.
To some, the rest of this column will be put aside as liberal diatribe, provoking white guilt, and bent upon opening up old wounds or black mandatory reparation of societal debt that is owed. Let me say that this could not be further from the truth. If one reads this column with thoughts of repugnance or loathing, it only amplifies the reasons and need for a slavery museum. If the real specter exists in the mirror, only a true cleansing of the soul can give rise to unfeigned aspirations of equality, justice, and fairness for all.
I recently visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and it is truly a heuristic and powerful experience. A quick Internet search revealed that more than 60 such museums worldwide are dedicated to the memory and education of the Holocaust--a terrible blight on mankind's soul that lasted 12 years. This was my third visit. No less moving or powerful are the images of shoes and other artifacts that were once worn or used by human beings whose lives were extinguished under the evil of fascism. When walking the corridors, reading the descriptions, and viewing the exhibits, one can almost hear the millions of voices crying out not to be forgotten.
It is these similar voices, voices of unheralded pain, tribulation, and anguish under similar inhumane and tyrannical circumstances that long to be heard: those voices of thousands of Africans taken from their homeland and forced into a horrific existence devoid of human compassion, civility, or hope to build what is now unarguably the greatest nation on earth.
These silenced voices and stories are not only an important reality for all Americans, but stand to give greater enlightenment to a global society that currently finds itself in the midst of an ever-increasing, maddening environment of social and cultural intolerance.
I do not contend that we should live in the past, or promote a hidden agenda of guilt, or be the propagator of political insensitivity: quite the contrary. A facility such as the one proposed would stand to ensure that we as Americans acknowledge our past in ensuring our children's future. I strongly exhort that we not forget the past. As horrific a tragedy that was American slavery, it is a story that must be told
I have read quite a few reviews and articles that have led me to put fingers to the keyboard. As a strategy, the initiation of such a project was and is quite noble. To let such a project evaporate is akin to forgetting our past, which is inconceivable. We cannot and must not stand idly by as a portion of American history falls by the wayside.
The story of the American slave trade must be told. It must be represented in the context in which it existed and for the terrible legacy it left behind. Most importantly, this appalling chapter in American history must reflect the positive changes that may be attributed as a direct outcome of the practice of slavery in America: the Underground Railroad, the abolitionist movement, education, arts, culture, character, etc., that have transpired through time affecting race, religion, ethnicity, culture, and society.
We must use the legacy of slavery every day as a path forward to appreciate multiculturalism, to embrace the prosperity of diversity, and truly build upon the knowledge and relationships of all people that make up this great nation.
We have a much larger debt to repay to the past, present, and for our future.
Donald Patterson Jr. is a resident