If Richmond, Virginia – ex-Capital of the Confederacy – can have a holocaust museum…

… why is there no national museum  devoted to the American holocaust of slavery?

It should be right next to the Smithsonian on the Mall in DC.

This absence has bothered me since I was 12 and traveled to Europe.  Why, if Germany has Auchwitz preserved as a museum, do we not have a museum that assembles all the artifacts of slavery in one place?

Because as Trump talks about mass deportations of immigrants, we need these reminders of how close we can come to evil.

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Trying to understand how an intelligent person could also be a profound racist, a supporter of slavery, I recently read a biography of Varina Davis, wife of Jefferson Davis, bull-headed President of the Confederacy. She was a controversial figure, not well-liked in Richmond because she was literary, sophisticated and broad-minded. She stayed in touch with Northern relatives and friends throughout the war and never felt that the south should have Pulled away from the union.

Later in life, she moved to New York and advocated for unity betwen north and south and became friends with the Pulitzers and Ulysses S. Grant’s widow. Her only excuse for her support of slavery was that she was a woman without her own income and had very little social power. But privately, she was blind to the injustice of slavery. Loving individual slaves but not able to challenge the dominant world view of her race and class.

This is the ordinary evil. The banal evils of custom and class. Of going along to get along. It’s our history. But it’s also our present.

And in a time of #Black Lives Matter, a museum would go a small way to address the monumental damage done in this terrible history.

Now this wrong is being slowly, quietly  addressed through the work of Bryan Stevenson. Here’s his phenomenal Ted Talk:

And a great New Yorker profile on his efforts to create a museum around American lynching, connecting it to the current state of mass incarceration and execution of Black Americans.


There is so much to be done. Perhaps a museum is only a symbol but I find it very hopeful that Stevenson and his supporters are working to re-write the larger social metaphors of our American public life.


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