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Purchased Lives

07/11/2017 07:00AM ● Published by Christy Quebedeaux

Gallery: Exhibit On Slavery Arriving In Iberia [7 Images] Click any image to expand.

Exhibit On Slavery Arriving In Iberia

By Shanna P. Dickens 

Slavery is a part of the South’s history, and history cannot be rewritten. Attempting to eliminate or ignore the past prevents us from being able to productively use this knowledge for the now and for the future. “Purchased Lives: The America Slave Trade from 1808 to 1865” is a panel version of an exhibit that examines one of the most challenging and polarizing eras of U.S. history. “Purchased Lives” will be on display at the Bayou Teche Museum from July 20-Aug. 26. 

The exhibit was originally produced in its entirety through The Historic New Orleans Collection in collaboration with National Endowment for the Humanities, Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, Entergy, Find Your Park and the Kabacoff Family Foundation. “Purchased Lives” was designed to explore what happened after slave importation was banned in 1808. The compelling exhibit has been condensed to 10 panels to travel to limited museums. The Bayou Teche Museum is fortunate enough to be one of them. 

“The panel exhibition is certainly a distillation of what the larger exhibit was, but it’s still very powerful and complete as an exhibition program,” explains John H. Lawrence, the Director of Museum Programs for The Historic New Orleans Collection. “It’s a different way of presenting the original information that is condensed without gaps.” 

The exhibit has 10 panels, each as poignant as the next. The first two focus on the slave trade within the U.S. in a very broad way and the forced migration of enslaved people. One panel deals with, as Lawrence details, “a specific large, influential and heartless conglomerate” that operated as distributors of human beings. A following section discusses businesses that supported the slave trade. There is an area dedicated solely to the life and legacy of Solomon Northup. Another catalogs the resistance to the trade and the attempted recaptures that followed. The final panel is titled “In Search of Freedom and Family.” The information is extensive and sobering. 

“This is difficult knowledge that should be presented,” reasons Director of The Bayou Teche Museum Marcia Patout.  “It can lead to resistance of the information in the exhibit, but in presenting the facts we hope to motivate visitors to the Museum to reflect and respond, to inspire a dialogue that might continue. Attempts to forget will diminish our capacity for empathy.”

And with this mindset, the Bayou Teche Museum is teaming up with the Iberia Parish Library and the Shadows-on-the-Teche to present a free workshop for ages 13-17 from 1-3:30 p.m. at the museum. The focus will be to more closely examine the details of the exhibit and focus on the effects of slavery on the African American family unit. 

“Although there is nothing specific to the Iberia area in the exhibit, partnering with Shadows-on-the-Teche will tell a more personal story of the slave experience in our area. Our proximity to New Orleans, the slave market of the South, only affirms that many enslaved people in New Iberia were purchased there,” Patout continues.  

The connection to the Shadow-on-the-Teche truly binds the exhibit to Iberia in a very personal way. The Director of the Shadows-on-the-Teche Pat Kahle explains that the history of the Shadows is compiled of the stories of all of the home’s former residents and workers. Looking into the lives and labor of enslaved plantation workers allows us to fully understand our own diverse history. 

“The ‘Purchased Lives’ exhibit is important because it has the power to take us beyond an impersonal academic history of slavery often found in textbooks, to a more personal heartfelt understanding of an uncomfortable subject,” Kahle professes. “In working with the Bayou Teche Museum’s ‘Purchased Lives’ exhibit, Shadows hopes to put a face on slavery by learning more about Louisa, Henry, Granville, Charlotte and all of the individuals identified as ‘movable property’ in estate inventories.” 

The opportunities to continue researching and learning extend beyond the panels. When Phebe Hayes, Ph.D. heard about the exhibit, she took it on as a passion project, offering to help in any way she could. She’s acted as the unofficial liaison between the exhibit and the community, creating outreach, interest and positive momentum. 

“I am excited to be involved in the exhibit,” Hayes professes. “It provides an educational experience that reveals the truth about chattel slavery as it evolved in Louisiana and provides the opportunity for the community to engage in conversations about that early history. My hope is that this will be the first of many community-wide experiences and discussions on the history of blacks in Iberia Parish from the antebellum period.” 

The experiences and discussions she hopes for have already been set in motion. As the planning for “Purchased Lives” moves forward, it continues to gain steam and create more opportunities.  Guest lecturers will lead presentations, correlating their areas of expertise with the exhibit. Iberia Parish schools have all been invited for tours. Corresponding lessons plans will also be offered. Following the close of the exhibit, the Iberia Parish Library will conduct a four-week book club that parallels the themes of “Purchased Lives.” 

During a time of what can feel like constant conflict, “Purchased Lives” creates an opportunity for those in Acadiana to explore themes we’d often like to ignore, and to become more knowledgeable about one of the most divisive times in the pasts of our region and country. While no two experiences with “Purchased Lives” will be the same, they will all be enlightening. 

“All of the reactions to the exhibit are so personal,” Lawrence relates. “A wide spread reaction that we received from the New Orleans exhibit was that it’s certainly powerful, but it’s a subject that gives you pause to realize that not so long in American they were buying and selling people like any other form of merchandise. At one time, this was perfectly legal, and that’s a big moment for a lot of people. It makes us think a lot about the past and how it can effect us in the present moment.” 

Life+Leisure, Today, In Print Purchased Lives Slavery South’s history America Slave Trade

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