Originally created 12/29/04

Solemn opening for slave ship exhibit



Sometimes, a ribbon cutting just isn't enough.

On Thursday, the Augusta Museum of History will open A Slave Ship Speaks: The Wreck of the Henrietta Marie. But instead of merely unlocking the doors and letting patrons peruse the artifacts found in the wreck of the English slave ship, the museum will prime the first patrons.

"We want people in a reflective mood," said Dr. Faye Hargrove, the chairwoman of the museum's Henrietta Marie program. "We want them to be ... more somber and a little less celebratory."

To that end, local entertainer Russell Joel Brown was asked to coordinate a ceremony that would lend the proceedings an appropriate measure of gravity.

"I saw the pictures of the exhibit, and I had been to the African-American Museum in Detroit, which has a similar exhibit," Mr. Brown said. "So I knew how powerful and dramatic this exhibition would be, and I wanted the opening ceremony to be just as powerful and dramatic. I wanted to spiritually prepare people."

Mr. Brown's vision includes a blessing of the waters outside the museum, performances by Cutno Dance, Creative Impressions and him and a procession from the fountain on the Broad Street side of the museum to the entrance on the Reynolds Street side.

Mr. Brown said his goal was to bring disparate elements - African and American, black and white, spiritual and artistic, young and old - together. Dr. Hargrove said those same goals are represented in the exhibit itself.

"An exhibit like this can be very provocative," she said. "It can be divisive, particularly in a community like this, where so much power is given to racial issues. So from the very beginning we asked ourselves how we could make this an exhibition everyone would see.

"We knew the secret would be incorporating as many aspects of the community as we could."

Good intentions, however, almost were not enough to get the show ready. An extension at the show's last stop in the Bahamas, shipping slowdowns from the Florida hurricanes and a few delays in customs kept the last of three crates of materials from arriving until Tuesday morning.

"The crates were stopped at customs because there were labels with things like 'cannonballs' and 'cannons,'" Scott Loehr, the museum's executive director, said with a laugh. "I guess those are the new weapons of mass destruction."

Destruction is the last thing on organizers' minds, though.

"Yes, we want to tell history, but we also want to build bridges," Dr. Hargrove said. "We hope that this exhibit will leave Augusta in a different condition, a better condition, than it found it in."

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.

Coming Thursday

Read more about A Slave Ship Speaks: The Wreck of the Henrietta Marie, in the Applause section of The Augusta Chronicle.