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UMW's Ridderhof Martin Gallery opens show of artifacts from the U.S. National Slavery Museum.
UMW's Ridderhof Martin Gallery opens show of artifacts from the U.S. National Slavery Museum.

 The slavery exhibit at the University of Mary Washington includes this edition of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' published by Grosset & Dunlap in 1900.
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Date published: 8/19/2004



wHEN RIDDERHOF Martin Gallery Director Tom Somma was pulling together the first exhibit of artifacts from the planned U.S. National Slavery Museum, he wanted to display a broad array of materials and items that would be thought-provoking.

"It was a consensus with the staff of the museum and myself just to try and show a range of the things that will be in the museum," Somma said during a recent tour of the gallery located on the campus of the University of Mary Washington.

Many of the items on display could be considered disturbing--especially to young children.

Some show moments of terror, such as a drawing titled, "Visit of the Ku Klux" from 1872. Others provide insight into the discussions of the day, such as a July 1868 political cartoon with the caption: "Would you marry your daughter to a Nigger?"

Others are documentary, such as a Sept. 4, 1864, receipt for the Confederate Army's purchase of a slave named Anthony for $4,000.

The show, "Reflections on American Slavery: Selected Objects from the Collections of the United States National Slavery Museum," opens Monday and runs through Oct. 8. Inside, visitors will find everything from traditional African textiles--including a quilt and a ceremonial robe--to a slave coin, shackles and sheet music.

There are grim images and others that reveal the resilience of the human spirit.

"What is always a good thing about an exhibition is to be unpredictable," Somma said.

Absent from the show are well-known names in African-American history such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.

Instead, visitors will be introduced to folks like Elizabeth Van Lew and Mary E. Bowser.

Van Lew was a well-known abolitionist from Virginia who convinced her family to free its slaves, according to information from Somma, museum officials and in the display.

After freeing Bowser, Van Lew paid for the former slave's education in Philadelphia. During the Civil War, Bowser agreed to return to Virginia and serve as a Union spy in the home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

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