|Lonnie G. Bunch III, museum director, historian, lecturer, and author, is proud to present A Page from Our American Story, a regular on-line series for Museum supporters. It will showcase individuals and events in the African American experience, placing these stories in the context of a larger story — our American story.
A Page From Our American Story
|This past April, the museum was honored to
welcome Isabell Meggett Lucas (third from
the left) and several generations of the
Meggett family to see the Slavery &
Eighty-six year old Isabell Meggett Lucas spent her childhood in a small wood house on Edisto Island, South Carolina. It was a two-room structure that she shared with 10 family members. The house did not have electricity, a refrigerator, bathroom or even running water.
But the house had a story much larger than its size. A century before Isabell Meggett Lucas was born, it was a “slave cabin” on the Point of Pines Plantation owned by a landowner named Charles Bailey, who used it to house people who worked the fields. The exact age of the cabin is unknown, but a map of the plantation from 1853 shows that the structure was there at the time. Another document, this one showing the plantation’s “inventory” around the same time, shows that 75 people were enslaved at the site. They lived in cabins just like the one where Ms. Meggett Lucas lived. But of the 10 cabins built along the same patch of land, hers was the only one that survived.
Today, it is gone too. That’s because the small wood house where she was born and spent her childhood, and where others before her had lived enslaved, is now on display at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, where it helps tell the story of slavery and freedom in the 19th century. The cabin was taken apart piece by piece, transported to a restoration facility in Virginia, and then rebuilt inside the museum.
The cabin is among the most prominent pieces of the Slavery & Freedom exhibition of the museum. It provides visitors from all walks of life with an opportunity to come face to face with the reality of life during slavery. “People can look at that house and the pictures around it in the exhibition and know that things didn’t come easy back then,” said Ms. Meggett Lucas. Born in 1931, however, she never knew it was a slave cabin she just called it home.
“We played together, ate together; the kids, we would fight together, learn together.…We never talked about slavery. We never talked about being poor. And we never went to bed hungry.”
Now, through her firsthand account, captured by the Smithsonian oral-history project, visitors to the museum can learn of life for African Americans who lived on Edisto Island in the 20th century as well. The cabin that features the life of enslaved families during the period of slavery and emancipation in the museum now expands its reach to tell the stories of those who lived there from 1853 to 1981, when it was last occupied.
This past April, the museum was honored to welcome Isabell Meggett Lucas and several generations of the Meggett family to see the Slavery & Freedom exhibition. It was a very moving moment for all who shared it. “I never knew this would all come to pass,” she said. “Everyone is excited and happy.”
All the best,
Lonnie G. Bunch III
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To read past Our American Stories, visit our archives.