Vassar Quarterly - Spring/Summer 2017 - 26
"We wanted to make it
clear that there would be
something for everybody...
regardless of how
well-steeped you were
in black history."
-Jacquelyn Serwer P'05
Jacquelyn Serwer P'05, who has served as
Chief Curator for the museum since 2006,
says the goal from the beginning was to
make the museum "multidisciplinary."
"The whole concept of it was a little bit
different from what one usually associates
with a history museum," she says. "We
wanted to make it clear that there would be
Serwer portrait, Mike Morgan, courtesy Sarah Lawrence College / Yassine El Mansouri
Many found the bottom floor, devoted
to the history, economics, and human toll
of the transatlantic slave trade, especially
poignant. African American alumna Jackie
Wright '91 says, "I started at the lowest level
of the museum, in the darkness and the tight
quarters, which were intended to offer a
semblance of the Middle Passage. Being in
such a space gave me a feeling of intense
claustrophobia. I felt moved beyond anything
I had imagined to know that my ancestors
had survived that feeling of fear, along with
violent and inhumane conditions."
Likewise, Dennis Slade '91 found the
level of detail "emotionally gut-wrenching"
and says, "I will always remember the wall
where they list, from hundreds of slave
vessels' manifests, how many Africans per
ship died in the Middle Passage, the plaques
where we see which countries were the 'best'
in the number of slaves they delivered to
the New World, and, most devastatingly, the
smaller shackles used for children in the
slave ships. Powerful, powerful stuff."
While the history of the Atlantic slave
trade is foundational to an understanding of
African American lives, it is a mere fraction
of what visitors will find in the museum.
something for everybody. That, regardless
of how well-steeped you were in black history,
there would be things in the museum that
would be appealing and of interest."
Visitors will find a segregation-era
Southern Railway car that serviced routes
in Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida;
a vintage biplane that was used to train
Alabama's renowned Tuskegee Airmen
during World War II; and a guard tower, used
in the 1930s and 1940s by guards at the infamously harsh Louisiana State Penitentiary
The "Musical Crossroads" gallery charts
the evolution of blues, jazz, RnB, and hip-hop
and showcases such artifacts as a dress worn
at opera singer Marian Anderson's triumphant
1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial; Chuck