Lisa Munniksma

freelance writing, editing, farming, travel

That Side of History

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Just like a typical person’s “vacation” doesn’t involve sleeping in unheated/unair-conditioned accommodations, hard physical labor or getting lost in a place where you don’t speak the language, eagerly heading off to places highlighting some of the worst of humanity doesn’t often top the list. Granted, I’m not on “vacation,” rather I’m taking a three-month road trip–a winter break from farming in Kentucky–to see the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast U.S. and volunteer on farms in Florida. It just so happens that two museums highlighting two horrific human acts are located in my travel path, and so I had to go.

Getting up-close-and-personal with the Holocaust and U.S. slavery dredged up some dirty stuff deep down that I tend to keep hidden in my oft-closed judgmental compartments, and some of that comes out in the form of a rant here. Sorry ahead of time. But, also, I’m not.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

The Washington Monument, just outside the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

The Washington Monument, just outside the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

I went to Washington, D.C., the day after Christmas to visit friends who used to live in Kentucky and go hashing–that drinking and running thing that I do. Leave it to me to piss on a good time by deciding that I needed to go to the most serious museum in the city on my way out. My family has a history related to the Holocaust, and I’ve always been interested in it as a result. In Amsterdam, I visited the Anne Frank House, though I haven’t yet been to Germany or Poland to visit any of the concentration camps. It’s on the list.

The Holocaust Museum was … I’m not sure how I’m supposed to describe it. It was horrible, as you might imagine it would be. I was particularly interested in Hitler’s rise to power beginning with WWI. I was surprised to learn about the U.S.’s forced-sterilization programs, which started before Germany’s. I always have wondered why the U.S. anyone didn’t do anything about the Holocaust sooner, though segregation was still in full effect here, so why mettle with segregation anywhere else? Gah.

One thing I thought the museum could use more of was exhibits of current/recent genocide in Syria, Bosnia and Rwanda. There was one small room that had some information, but the room was kind of off the museum’s beaten path, and I think more can be done to help drive this message home: People are still being herded together and killed in large numbers because they believe/look/behave different than someone else, and maybe your biggest complaint about life is that there’s nothing on TV.

The Old Slave Mart Museum

At the Unitarian Universalist cemetery in Charleston, S.C.

At the Unitarian Universalist cemetery in Charleston, S.C.

Less than a week after my Holocaust education, I came to learn about one of the most disgusting pieces of American history. The fifth stop of my winter road trip brought me to Charleston, S.C.–one of the most (possibly the most) beautiful American cities I have ever been to. I was interested/disturbed to learn that 40 percent of African people being transported to the U.S. for the purpose of slavery passed through this city. Slave trading used to take place right there on the street, but Charleston–being southern and all–had a reputation to uphold with the hudda-hudda visitors, so slave traders, brokers and buyers had to move their little human-trafficking operation inside to 40 enclosed slave markets. See, back in the day, everyone knew slavery existed, but they loved their cheap agricultural and cotton-goods production, so they justified the behavior.

[Wait, am I writing about current agricultural and textile production? Today’s U.S. agricultural workers aren’t beaten or held against their will (for the most part), but they are worked into exhaustion, given sub-par living standards, separated from their families, under-appreciated and discriminated against in this country, all while doing work that very few people in this country would want to do. I’m not implying that what today’s immigrant, food-production workers are experiencing is near the horror that black slaves encountered, rather asking you to think about where your food comes from–who makes it possible to have those meats, eggs and veggies–and howyour eating habits are probably exploiting today’s workers and how you’re probably turning a blind eye, too.]

Slavery was so popular in South Carolina that the state had a black majority–slaves and free blacks–from 1708 through most of the 1800s. The state was such a fan of its slave labor that it started the Civil War in 1861 to keep slavery going. The Emancipation Proclamation was signed on Jan. 1, 1863., and the Civil War ended on April 9, 1865.

Next Up

From Charleston, I’m hitting Mobile, Ala., and driving through much of Florida. If you know of any other sites or museums outlining haunting acts against humankind in these areas, please let me know! I might as well continue my tour of horror.

4 Comments

  1. Will we ever understand how these things happen? Probably not in my lifetime.
    Even one-on-one intentional violence is so unnecessary and misdirected.
    Brave of you to go, Lisa.

  2. Lisa
    I think there is a civil war prisoner camp in Anderson Georgia that was famous for its over crowding and in humane treatment if that interests you. My folks visited it a few years ago and were talking about it
    Jack

  3. Maybe you could see if there are any museums that show what the Union Army endured to free the slaves? That would probably be a little more uplifting to show that there is some good in the world. Even though they also endured horrible conditions and lost limbs and lives for something they believed in.

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