“Those are the shackles we found in the seller…”

by Savannah Lore

This phrase tends to get people shocked or interested in a millisecond. I show them the door to the root seller that is in the kitchen pantry, and tell them they we don’t tour it but we have pictures for them to view. I usually get question about the pictures because they clearly show the shackles on the wall. When I explain, “No, those are shackles.” I get a varied amount of looks, ranging from “Really?” to a loud gasp. (I always follow up with what they were used for and stories about African Americans freeing themselves in Missouri in this period.) I bring up these stories because this week I have been focusing on the book Interpreting Slavery at Museums and Historic Sites edited by Kristen L. Gallas and James DeWolf Perry.

I was lucky enough to attend an Interpreting Slavery seminar at the Alexander Majors Barn in May put on in joint effort by Freedom’s Frontier, University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Center for Midwestern Studies, Wornall/Majors House Museums, and the Tracing Center on Histories and Legacies of Slavery. This book was a resource material from that seminar. I learned so much just about how to talk about slavery with visitors and how to share slavery in a meaningful but proper way. One of the great things I took away from the seminar was that as an interpreter, I am a guide, and I am not there to force them to think or believe what I think they should know or feel. My job should be to introduce them to this narrative and guide them in the learning process (or crisis depending on their perspective and background knowledge.)

Interpreting Slavery is also helping me with my tours at the Majors house. I use some of the practices talked about in the book, such as using narrative storytelling to easy them into the topic they thought might be uncomfortable. I also learned to purposefully speak about enslaved African Americans in the active and not in the passive voice. It is such a simple thing but it creates a new perspective and gives African Americans agency in there own stories which is what I want to do as an interpreter. One thing that I found to be very important advice was that I should recognize and explore what baggage I have (and everyone has some) about race and racial identity. It is important for me to figure out what conscious and unconscious ideas I have about race that effect my interpretation and how I can help visitors work through their own ideas. I am recognizing and working with these ideas to create a better experience and interpretation of slavery at the Alexander Majors House Museum.

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