The museum’s main entrance hallway explores black history. Another hall is a peon to famous blacks in history such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. Still another has wax figures of important contemporary or recently deceased African-Americans. This includes President Barak Obama, who has his own alcove and who African-American visitors stopped to revere with much pride. Another hall contains famous figures of the past who were black despite the fact
history seems to have forgotten that fact. Probably the best known of these is Makeda, the Queen of Sheeba. Her union with King Solomon produced a royal line in Ethiopia that lasted until 1975.
Despite ugly racist arguments to the contrary, blacks did not enjoy being slaves on any level. Henry Brown, for example, so hated this status he mailed himself in a crate made by a black carpenter from Richmond to Philadelphia. He then stood on said crate to preach against the evils of slavery. The most impressive part of this museum is its willingness to graphically demonstrate and explore the horrors of chattel slavery. One display shows a slave tortured by an iron mask, a device secured over the head with just enough holes to breath but not to take in food or water. It was placed on a slave who refused to be broken, forcing this victim to either starve to death or submit.
The willingness to cover the Middle Passage—the sea voyage from Africa to the Americas—without holding back its awfulness is one of the museum’s most powerful decisions. You descend down into the hold of a full scale model slave ship complete with a mirror on one side of the hull so, if you happen to be a person of color, you can see yourself as a
slave. Here no punches are pulled. On board a transport vessel, the unskilled among the crew had the unwelcome task of feeding, exercising, and disciplining the slaves. They also died alongside them at the same appalling high rates. Some crewmen, when drunk, raped the women. One information sign reports an incident where a seaman raped a ten-year-old girl for three nights. It so damaged her psyche that her value dropped from 1.800 livres to 800 when she was sold at an auction.
Those Africans unlucky enough to survive the voyage were taken ashore, cleaned up, given necessary medical attention, then, says an information sign, “crammed with food, and filled with liquids in an effort to fatten them up.” This was called “fattening.” In South America, the next step was “seasoning” or “breaking.” Effort was put