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Editorial failed to portray exhibit's purpose
Editorial failed to portray exhibit's purpose

Date published: 9/12/2004

As indicated by your recent editorial "Sideshow" printed Sept. 1, it is apparent that you have given serious thought to the meaning of the exhibition "Reflections on American Slavery," which is currently on display at the Ridderhof Martin Gallery on the campus of the University of Mary Washington.

It is also apparent that you have given equally serious attention to the mission of the planned U.S. National Slavery Museum, from whose fledgling collections the contents of the exhibition were drawn.

In your editorial, you raise several legitimate questions with respect to the scope and mission of the slavery museum, which are issues the board and staff of the slavery museum have been studying for some time.

As such, your comments are part of a larger ongoing local and national dialogue that, in the end, should help produce a world-class national museum here in Fredericksburg of which all Americans can be justifiably proud.

However, I would like to clarify a misinterpretation in your editorial concerning the purpose of the current exhibition at the Ridderhof Martin Gallery. As the director of the University of Mary Washington Galleries, I am the primary organizer of this exhibition.

My intentions were simple and two-fold. First, I chose to exhibit a wide selection of images and objects reflecting the diversity of the slavery museum's growing permanent collections.

Second, and more importantly, I sought to strike a thematic balance between the horrors of slavery and the courage and contributions of those individuals who have struggled against slavery and its legacy.

I am proud of the fact that the exhibition at Ridderhof Martin Gallery deals with these issues in a sensitive, forthright, and thoughtful manner.

And, of particular importance, I am pleased this is done in a communal context that is neither indulgent nor judgmental. I invite you to tour the exhibit with these insights in mind.

Thomas P. Somma


Thomas P. Somma is director of the University of Mary Washington Galleries.