Currently, the Tennessee State Museum is hosting an exhibit called “Slaves and Slaveholders of Wessyington Plantation,” an exploration of a plantation in Robertson County from the nineteenth century. At its height, the Wessyngton Plantation was the largest tobacco-producing plantation in the United States. The Tennessee State Museum uses the exhibit space to show life on this massive plantation, a place that left behind an extraordinary amount of records. The exhibit explores various aspects of life on the plantation, specifically examining the lives of the slaves, slaveholders, and the intersection of the two.
I recently had a chance to visit the exhibit during a meeting of museum professionals. Some of the exhibit planners shared how the exhibit came together (it took nearly two years, from planning to fruition!). The exhibit is extraordinary and worth your time if you have not visited, yet. And if you are planning a trip to Nashville, I encourage you to take some time to see the museum. The exhibit will be open until August 31, 2014.
What I wanted to share here is a seemingly minor connection to Nashville the exhibit makes and my own revelation during my visit. If you have been on one of our tours, you know that we talk about early days in Nashville and the hustling, bustling market scene. We try to convey what the landscape would have looked like and sounded like and felt like in the past. I know I touch on the clamor of a market, the calling out of vendors, the sounds of horses pulling wagons. Below is a picture from the exhibit, making a connection between the plantation and Nashville.
This structure represents an auction block. For people. That clamor of the Nashville market included auctioneers calling out bids. For people. That happened in Nashville. I don’t shy away from difficult history, but this one hit me hard. Maybe because I have been giving tours for well over a year and never once mentioned this aspect of the market on a tour. Maybe because I felt I’ve done some disrespect to the past by not mentioning this fairly common part of the marketplace. And maybe because even as a trained professional in the field of history, the humanity (or inhumanity) of the past can still rock me to my core.
We are always discovering more about the past, we are always learning more about ourselves. I don’t do justice to the exhibit here, but I strongly encourage you check it out. If you do have a chance to explore the space, feel free to leave comments below about what made an impression on you during your visit.