WEST PALM BEACH — Replica pieces such as the box a slave hid in and items that showed life dating back to the early 1800s were on display at the Second Annual Interactive African American Museum at Hidden Oaks Elementary School.
Media Specialist Marie Smith put together a unique display of Civil War artifacts, replicas of numerous historical documents and frayed photographs that date back to the early 1800s.
Visitors who walked through the media center examined actual household items such as wooden butter churns and ‘sad’ irons used by slaves on plantations. They also had a chance to inspect the ‘sweet grass’ baskets skillfully woven by slaves who learned the art form from their ancestors in West Africa.
The display included a handmade, luxury pocket watch and an authentic ‘Wanted’ ad for an escaped slave.
Many of these items have been acquired by Smith on her summer trips to plantations, such as Frampton in South Carolina. A replica of the box (three feet long, two and one-half feet deep and two feet wide) that Virginia slave Henry Brown used to ‘mail’ himself to freedom, sparked interest with the students.
“Students of all grade levels are always amazed that Henry stayed cooped up in that tiny box for 27 hours, with little water and some biscuits, as he travelled 350 miles to freedom!” Smith said. “His biography, titled Henry’s Freedom Box, written by Ellen Levine and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, is always a big hit.”
A replica of the only handwritten copy of the Gettysburg Address was part of the Civil War display. The table also displayed items such as coat buttons and pottery shards excavated from battlefields in Charleston, South Carolina and a satchel containing actual items soldiers would carry: dice, musket ball, penny whistle, tin cup and flint and sticker.
Viewers could compare the satchel to a muslin slave bag, which contained a feather, wooden spoon and a slave ‘Bill of Sale.’
Other items of interest include newspaper clippings highlighting important events, such as the Tallahassee Democrat announcing the Supreme Court’s ruling on Brown vs. Board of Education, an underground railroad quilt, a document from the 1800s announcing the public auction of slaves, accounting pages from a slave keeper’s record book and a telegram from Governor Wallace of Alabama to President Kennedy.
A visit to this special display of assorted and authentic items representing African-American history and collected carefully through years of research and countless trips, prompted Sheila Gustafson, an English-born media clerk at Hidden Oaks to say: “This museum has definitely helped me get a better picture of a significant part of American history.”