The Antebellum America students had a splendid visit to the Mildred Westervelt Warner Transportation Museum today. They saw an exhibit that puts on display what Tuscaloosa looked like before the Civil War. Katherine Richter Edge, the Director of the Museum, helped us see how power is in flux. This is the thesis for this course.
To be clear, one of the well-to-do men who left his home in Philadelphia to develop the city in the late 1830s (and after the city and state’s founding in 1819), did not use enslaved labor. Instead, he used local labor – including University of Alabama students who were generally thought of as being a group that needed a bit of discipline in those days. The sign above clearly shows he wanted someone who was skilled and dependable.
It’s an interesting story as the museum is located in a former bathhouse constructed in the Jim Crow-1940s. Typically, we think of forward-thinking actions emerging chronologically when, in fact, it may be far more complex than that. This is another example of how complicated the difficult era of slavery was in the antebellum South.
After Edge’s tour, the students addressed their impressions of power flux via written reflections. Some of them shared their thoughts with the entire class. Next week, they present their map project, which is a cumulative look at how power is in flux before, during and even after the antebellum period. Like the Warner museum, we do as much while paying homage to the city and state’s upcoming bicentennial.
It is worth it to note the idea of labor being complex is further evident in the photographs of the excavation that produced some of the items on display. We were afforded the chance to see who gets to work and how they worked.
Above is a picture of a present-day man working on the excavation project led by Brandon Thompson, Director of the Gorgas House Museum. The Embassy Suites Hotel now sits on that site, which is on University, once known as Broad Street. I loved the maps. They showed the names of the residents and the businesses in early Tuscaloosa.
I will end with a selfie. Katherine knows how much I love taking them.