I’ve lived in the Mid-Atlantic region all my life, and somehow have never done anything in Richmond but pass through it on my way to somewhere else. But I knew I ought to visit. The city was the capital of the Confederacy, and there are more American 19th century artifacts in their museums than anywhere else.
The predecessor to the American Civil War Museum was depressing, dark and large. It was filled with items donated by people who were clearing out their attics. There were serried ranks of glass cases holding sabers. There were personal items that used to be owned by Confederate generals. There was iconography about the Lost Cause. I knew it would be annoying to visit, and apparently so did many others.
So they rebuilt and rebooted, Marie Kondoing the collection so that now it’s balanced and has a clear narrative. Suddenly there’s the Union side of the story, and women, and black people. There’s Abraham Lincoln and the three Amendments to the Constitution that are the basis of our country today.
And from the mountains of items they’ve selected the ones with the most impact. The item at the top of this post is cast iron. It’s the cast of the hand of a slave. I can even tell you how it was probably done. You cast iron by pouring it into sand-filled molds or forms. Some slave working in the foundry pushed his hand into a pile of sand and slopped some molten iron into the hole. No one knows his name. This is all we have of him. But, reaching up, reaching out to us across time, how eloquent his hand is!
One final picture, of myself sitting next to the statue of Lincoln and his son Tad. This commemorates the President’s visit to Richmond only a few days after it fell. (Click on that link and listen to the park ranger tell the story!) The white residents of Richmond stood silent, glaring. But the black people poured out into the street and cheered. I’m glad that Lincoln got to experience some of the good, out of a fearsome war. He was assassinated two weeks later.