Slavery museum educates students for Black History Month
The Lest We Forget Slavery Museum came to Baruch College to teach students about the history of slavery and its continued effects on contemporary America.
The traveling exhibit was brought to the school on Feb. 21 in honor of Black History Month.
As Gwen Ragsdale, co-curator of the museum, explained about the artifacts, “This is not black history, it is American history.”
Throughout the exhibit, she and her husband, Justin, wanted to convey to students that certain aspects of slavery continue to impact communities of color today, as well as inform people of color how important it is to know the history of their people.
Justin has been collecting artifacts related to slavery for the past 60 years. The Ragsdales’ museum features items from the times of slavery, including numerous slaver devices such as shackles, branding devices, yokes and ball-and-chains.
It also has items from after the times of slavery, including advertisements with racist characterizations of black people, “blacks seated in rear” signs and a robe belonging to a Ku Klux Klan member.
Chair of the Black History Month Committee Fatou Fifi Diaw hoped the event would educate students about Black History Month and “just give them an insight on why this month exists and why we have to go back to the past to help us deal with the present.”
Tables were set up with posters and explanations for each of the items displayed. There was also a documentary shown featuring the Ragsdales speaking about the history of slavery.
The Ragsdales gave a presentation on slavery as well. Justin shared his story with the audience and explained how and why he got into learning about and teaching the history of slavery, as well as collecting slavery memorabilia. He told the students about how he got interested in the history after living and speaking with his uncle when he was young.
Inspired and intrigued, Justin began to look into black history and understand how his ancestors came to America.
Justin worked as a window cleaner at a local college and sat in African-American history classes simply for the knowledge. Eventually, the professor encouraged him to visit Africa to find the information he was searching for. Justin went to Africa, and after being sent to a few different places, he found answers.
He discovered that the British were credited with turning slavery into the large-scale operation that it became, and that Africans were rounded up from their homes in the middle of the night like animals.
He learned of the “deplorable” sanitary conditions on the ships coming to America. He detailed the gruesome conditions to the audience. Justin said the ships were commonly called “death ships” because many people would die on them. The stench of the dead bodies and feces on the ships could be smelled from five miles away.
Gwen emphasized the importance of both remembering one’s culture and where one comes from and the importance of asking the elderly to share their stories, since they “won’t be around forever, and they take their stories with them to the grave.”
She also spoke of the importance of African Americans knowing and understanding their history and culture. She explained that African Americans must learn to stick together in order to break the cycle of racism present in U.S. society that has gone back for generations.
In previous years, Baruch took students to the museum from which the traveling exhibit came. The museum, which is located in Philadelphia, is currently relocating, so the curators brought a taste of the museum to Baruch.