LAHC Culture Week celebrated with forgotten images from slavery

Note: This is one of a series of events happening during Culture Week at LAHC

By Nadia Villanueva

On May 11, LAHC continued its Culture Week celebration with an exhibit called “Forgotten Images.” This is a traveling museum hosted by husband and wife David and Sharon McLucas, who have collected images and artifacts in association with slavery and black history. All artifacts and images are personally owned by the couple.

Guided by Sharon McLucas, the tour began with a Sealy mattress from 1927, which had a patch with a depiction of slaves picking cotton for the cotton mattresses, a very common image for advertisements, according to McLucas, who also presented an ad of a young African American child holding cotton in a sack, ironically with a smiling face. Every mattress in the 1920s, according to McLucas, came with a booklet sharing history, songs, and stories from the African American culture and slavery. One story shared was of a young child, who wished for death in order to go to “white heaven.”

Cotton display in traveling exhibit from Forgotten Images, a collection of artifacts associated with slavery and black history Photo by Nadia Villanueva
Cotton display in traveling exhibit from Forgotten Images, a collection of artifacts associated with slavery and black history
Photo by Nadia Villanueva

In the exhibit were shackles, chains, and whips used to punish slaves. McLucas brought to life the struggles slaves encountered, with artifacts of shackles and an image of what slave auctions looked like. Along with the punishment techniques used, the McLucas’ exhibit had a branding torch with a letter “R” for runaway, used for slaves who ran away too often, to be recognized.

Included was a one-of-a-kind quilt with hidden images used to help slaves escape to the Underground Railroad. On the quilt were directions and symbols meant to help slaves reach each destination, such as the North star, a bear claw meant to symbolize the forest, and a ship meant to symbolize a river.

This one-of-a-kind quilt with hidden directional images  helped slaves escape to the Underground Railroad. Photo by Nadia Villanueva
This one-of-a-kind quilt with hidden directional images helped slaves escape to the Underground Railroad.
Photo by Nadia Villanueva

One artifact that stood out was the “Alligator Bait” display, which exposed a part of history not shared too often. The alligator bait display told the story of how white slave owners captured and skinned their alligators. They would, according to McLucas’ tour, kidnap small children and babies for bait. Hanging the children from tree branches in alligator ponds, the children would dangle to attract the alligator. The act of using children as bait even became a design for a letter opener and pencil holder, bought by white men. Not only was the act idolized with office supplies but was also the design on candy containers for black licorice.

For children whose mother was fortune enough to be a house slave, according to McLucas, they were granted the privilege of sharing a doll with the white children of the house, known as a topsy-turvy doll. The doll had two sides to it: one of a white child, and when turned upside down it was an African American child, hence the name. The white side was meant for the white children in the house, and the African American side was meant for the children of the slaves. When the children came of age, however, they were sent to work on the cotton fields and the doll no longer belonged to them.

Topsy-Turvy doll Photo by Nadia Villanueva
Topsy-Turvy doll
Photo by Nadia Villanueva

The exhibit also had a real KKK uniform, along with a real rope used to hang slaves. The rope belonged to a judge in Hot springs, Arkansas whose family was embarrassed by his past, and sold it to the McLucas’ after he deceased. “We were lucky enough to get our hands on it,” says McLucas.

The exhibit ended with cut outs of Barrack and Michelle Obama, “to show where we are now” says McLucas, “If I can leave you guys with one things it’s this: know your family history and know where you come from. Ask your parents, your grandparents, anyone to tell you their stories and their history because it’s important to know your past.”

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