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tv   Slave Wrecks Project interview  CSPAN  November 26, 2015 12:00pm-12:42pm EST

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1935 was assassinated, and i talk about robert kennedy in 1968 who was assassinated and george wallace who was shot and paralyzed for life in 1972. i cover candidates as well as presidents. and it's a long list. >> sunday night at 8:00 eastern and pacific on c-span's q&a. ooshg archaeological excavation of a slave ship off the coast in 1974 is adding a new chapter to the story. the smithsonian national museum of african-american history museum and culture is a global partner in the ship's discovery, recovery and exhibition. director lonnie bunch and curator paul gardullo talked with american history tv about the saga of the ship called sal vose. >> take us back to december 27th, 1794, camps bay off south
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africa, and the final hours of the ship. >> on december 27th, 1794, a ship that was heading from mozambique island in mozambique, around the cape of good hope heading towards brazil, northeast brazil, came close to capetown, south africa. capetown was often a landing point for ships before they made their way across the long atlantic voyage and this ship came too close to shore, got caught in swells in a storm, and struck rocks about 100 yards, 350 feet or so, from shore. the captain was captaining the ship, tried to salvage what he could from the crew. they attempted a rescue from
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ship to shore. he rescued himself. he res i couldcued along with a rescued about half of the 400 enslaved mozambiquens aboard. the other half of those who had been captured from the interior of africa and brought on board the ship in early december, perished in those waves that night. >> lonnie bunch, recently the image of a young syrian boy who died who drowned became the image of a migrant crisis taking place right now in europe. its humanized that crisis that's happening. that is what you want to do with this? does that humanize the slave trip? >> in many ways history museums tend to tell the grand story and often forget to humanize them. it struck us that when you think of the millions of people who were taken via the middle
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passage to the new world, many who perished, you realize that when you start talking numbers in the millions it's hard for the public to understand or even care or be touched by it. our goal was to say how do we humanize this slave trade by focusing on a single ship? letting people understand what happened on that ship, letting people understand who some of the people were on the ship, and most importantly, letting people realize that it's not about the millions. it's about in this case the 412. >> well, of the slaves who survived that wreck, what happened to them after the wreck, after they came ashore? >> well, after the wreck, two days later, the ship captain had to testify in court. it was a dutch court at that time. testified to the loss of property. and that included those human beings who were lost. the other 200 be and some odd people were sold back into slavery in the western cape and there they lived out their lives
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and what remained of them. their loss to us right now, but our research is continuing into see if we can find descendent communities of some of those people with our partners. >> do we know the names of any of the slaves who survived the wreck or died? >> we don't know the names of anyone, but we're very lucky to bring their spirits in some ways back into memory, back into history, so that we can begin to reclaim them. >> lonnie bunch, i heard you say what you're trying to do at the natural museum of african-american history and culture is find the right tension between moments of sadness and moments of resiliency. is this all a moment of sadness, the story of the ship? >> obviously the story of slavery is a story of the loss of power, sometimes a loss of life, the loss of family, so it's very sad on that regard. on the other hand it's also a story of the resiliency of people to survive. one of the things that strikes
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me is that often people, african-american sometimes, are embarrassed by their slave ancestors. they want to talk about those who were free or struck a blow for freedom, but for me, african-americans that survived the middle passage, that survived that sort of transition to this new, horrible, harsh world, really were so strong that in some ways i want people to rethink about what slavery meant. that yes, it's not something to celebrate, but to celebrate the spirit of those who triumphed and kept family and soul together the best they could. >> the story of the ship, of what happened before the wreck and after the wreck, can you talk about what life was like from december 3rd when the ship left mozambique, until december 27th? what would it have been like on that ship? >> well, we have very little recorded testimonies of any experiences of people who survived the middle pass am that were written down.
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right. so we do have the records of a variety of ships and the accounts that were given by both traders and the few who wrote about their experiences. you know, this is a long voyage, right. you're three weeks on a ship in the hold. if you're a man you're likely shackled the whole time. your feet as well as your hands. you may be taken outside to exercise above deck. maybe once a day. maybe by the light of the moon. right. you're still close to africa, so there's going to be a very close watch on what's going on and on the opportunities for escape or rebellion or even in some cases suicide. if you're a woman, you may have a little bit more freedom and we need to remember that writ large, though we don't have the
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demographic breakdown of this particular ship, but within the slave trade and the middle passage writ large, nearly 25% of those who were carried across from africa were classified as children and so they are all below decks, tightly packed with other kinds of cargo, water, iron ballhas bars, donage, like material that would be used for trade and to help weigh things down. it was a horrendous experience. >> yeah. so in many ways the way to think about it is, cargo. that in essence, the goal here is to pack as many in, try to make as many people survive as possible for the profit margins. so on the one hand, when people are taken above deck, it's in part to sort of keep them physically fit, keep them moving, trying to encourage their ability to survive. and i think the thing that is
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really powerful when you think about what it must have been like, first of all, while you may have many members of tribes who speak similar languages, many didn't. you have people who don't know each other shackled together. you have this sort of sense of disorientation, where am i going, what does this mean, who ares these people? and so in some ways, the ability to survive that is really one of the great triumph s of human history. >> this ship was coming from east africa because up until that time most of the slave trade coming from the west african coast. >> light. you're looking at -- >> we're talking about 1794 the end of the century that ushered in so many rebellions for freedoms in the world, right. it's at the end of the century that saw the largest single century of the slave trade,
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right. so if historians are estimating that there's around 12 million people who were transport ed, 7 million, more than 7 million, in that hundred years alone. it's tremendous, it's the end of a huge century in many respects. >> and where was the united states in its slave story in 194? the president of the united states at that time george washington a slave owner. >> what you had is the 18th century, you have about 600,000 enslaved africans between 600 and 800,000 living in what eventually became the united states of america. and what you have is many on involved in sugar, rice, later cotton, but what you really have is, an economy that is built on the slave trade, that so much of what made america work was built
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on the backs of the enslaved. the labor ta was provided, not just to grow the crops, but to transform the happened scape, to take those swamps in south carolina and turn them into rice fields, the kind of labor that was involved. and also what you also have is this amazing sense of creating the african american. you have all these different africans coming together, forming in an african-american culture, beginning to learn a language, wrestling with christianity, so that you have this amazing moment of transformation and in some ways, as americans, we know slavery as a 19th century phenomenon. but so much of slavery, the patterns, the origins, the large numbers of people, are really an 1th century phenomena and that's why the ship is important because it helps us refocus our attention on the earlier period that laid the foundation on which so much rest of the slave
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environment was built upon. >> and what is more, i think that you're also looking at this period following the american revolution, where all of these principles of liberty are being established, are being struck for. they're not just being struck for by propertied white men. they're being articulated and forwarded by free blacks, by women, by enslaved peoples, right. a revolution begins in haiti, right, soon after, three years before this voyage in 1791, the enslaved and the free blacks of haiti strike for revolution. right. it's the only successful large-scale slave revolution in the new world. and if you're a trader and you understand the economic importance of slavery, writ large, you're understanding that the world is shifting a little
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bit under you and the trade from west africa, which has been strong for so long, and will it continue, may to these people need to change and so they begin to look for other markets and that's where mozambique comes in. a place like mozambique, which had been oriented toward the indian ocean for almost millenia, right, suddenly gets reoriented by the portuguese in the late 18th century and throughout the 19th century, back around the cape, and over primarily to brazil and the caribbean. >> what happens in mozambique is about a million people from mozambique are brought mainly to brazil from the late 18th century into the 19th century because slavery in brazil doesn't end until 1888. >> this is where the ship was originally headed to. >> absolutely. and so i think part of what this is important is that it allows us to tell that the story of
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slave trade was much more complicated than just simply west africa to the united states, but it also helps people understand how large the impact of the slave trade was in the caribbean, latin america, and how small it was in the united states compared to that. >> and before we leave that history, when did the last slave ship land in the united states? how many years after the sinking of the ship did it take for the slave trade to be outlawed? >> here's what happens. you have with the trade being outlawed in 1808 as part of the compromise of creating the constitution, you begin to see the numbers decline, right, but you still see people smuggling in enslaved africans. in fact, the last slave ship that we know about, was about 1862 and it was near mobile, alabama. >> right. >> so that in essence, while the formal slave trade was outlawed, the kind of smuggling that went
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on continued to bring in a trickle, no longer a flood, but a trickle of new africans into the united states. >> and at the same time, what you see in the u.s. context is, the massive buildup of what we -- what historians called the internal slave trade or the domestic slave trade. so that while it's not as if, of course, slanchry doesn't end, but the trading in slavery in america in the united states ramps up and so you have a million people who are being moved from the upper south, this area, right, washington, d.c., alexandria, maryland, down to louisiana, mississippi, texas. one of the -- and it's a massive trade. the largest slave trading company in the united states at that time was based in two places, one along nachez, mississippi, and the other in alexandria, virginia. >> the ship part of the slave
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wrecks project. what is the slave wrecks project? >> what we have is that we realize that the goal of this initially was to find iconic pieces of a slave ship. we didn't set out to find the ship, what we realized is that creating a new museum, you wanted people to understand by humanizing the slave trade and we looked around the world for ships. we looked in cuba. spent a lot of time in cuba looking at ships, trying to figure out or this is where we begin to do our exploration. as we got closer and we wanted to make sure we found some, we began to work with the slave wrecks project, an amazing collaboration of scholars in the united states, in -- and south africa, in west africa, in brazil, people within the united states park service, and an array of people who want to realize that maritime archeology traditionally didn't look for
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the ships of the ep slanslaved e felt that we needed to work with partners that would help us map the ocean floors, help us begin to identify where other ships could be. because our goal is pretty simple. on the one hand we wanted to find a ship for the museum when we opened. but on the other hand what we wanted to do is stimulate a national and international conversation and interest in finding the hundreds of ships that are on the ocean floor. we wanted to make sure that people in senegal had the training and the interest and the resources to look in their waters. people in brazil, people in south africa. so on the one hand the goal was very confined. find us a ship. on the other hand the goal was, if this is the last frontier of knowledge, if this is something that will help us understand the slave trade more than anything else we have now, then how do we help countries around the world
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do this work? and so the slave wrecks project in part is also about education, helping to train young people to become underwater archeologists, helping nations through collaborations to find the resources to identify and bring up their own wrecks. our hope would be that this project will go on for many generations, helping us to learn more by bringing up remnants, pieces of these ships. >> and not just a slave ship but a slave ship that goes down with human cargo on board. i mean that's the historical significance here. >> that's the historical significance of this particular wreck. and i think that has been one of our really -- that's been one of the guiding lights and that goes back to our -- what we talked about in the beginning, the importance of remembering these people, these people who survived these horrific journeys
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and the people whose names we might not ever remember and who never survived. i think that was one of the most incredibly moving components of what we experienced when lonnie and i traveled to south africa and mozambique this summer. >> because in a way, part of what we wanted to do was to trace the route of the ship, right, from mozambique island, through into south africa. we also wanted to meet the people involved. we spent time with a people in the interior where sort of most of the people on the ship were makua people. what happened was that we had this idea that we wanted to get soil from mozambique and spread it over the ship. that was our idea. well, we got to mozambique and the chiefs of the makua had this amazing ceremony for us and they reached -- took us to a spot
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where the enslaved were sold, kind of auction spot, and they then began to dig dirt and they put dirt in this amazingly beautiful vessel, this shell vessel, and then they said to us, in no uncertain terms, basically they said, you thought this was your idea but this is ancestors telling you what you need to do. because once you sprinkle this dirt over the ship, for the first time since 1794, our people will sleep in their homeland. so you're sitting there crying. oh, my goodness. and you realizes the sort of -- that it's more than a research endeavor, it's more than a museum exhibition. it's really as palm saul said, really about recognizing that the slave trade is not about yesterday, it's as much about today and tomorrow for so many people, and it really gave us sort of new insights into how to
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help people remember and understands the importance of this. then, to finish the story about this soil, so we had planned to have a ceremony in capetown and -- overlooking camps bay. we were hosted by an amazing man named albie sacks, who was involved in the anti-apartheid movement, we thought we would have a ceremony where i would speak and a few other people would speak. well, the day of the ceremony it was horrible. it was pouring rain, the sea was angry. the wind was unbelievably strong. you suddenly realized, this could have been like the day that the ship went down. it was that bad. we couldn't get boats out. ultimately we had these divers get out as far as they could and then they sprinkled the soil and what happened is, as soon as the soil hit the water, the sun came out. rain stopped. wind stopped. and suddenly you realize, don't
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mess with ancestors. you had this real sense that this was a special moment. and we stood there just unbelievably connected to these people whose names we'll never know, and what really then topped it off, was a woman that was part of the ceremony who was a descendent of mozambique slaves, read a poem and she read this poem in african and portuguese and talked about how important it was that the work we were doing was allowing people to sleep in their own soil, allowing people to be remembered, but most importantly, allowing us the living to recognize how connected we are to this story and those are the things that make all the work we do special. that's why we still feel so lucky to be able to do this. >> long before that day, before the divers even hit the water, can you talk about the research
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effort and how you originally found the ship? >> yeah. i mean, this in some ways began long ago, right, it began long before the museum's involvement. it began with a desire and initiative to look for wrecks. much like the one we were engaged if at the museum. and that took time, right. it takes -- it takes time to look through a variety of archival sources, right. you're looking at a combination of archival work and archaeological work and all sorts of detective work, anthropological work, talking to fishing communities sometimes about where they know of wrecks and what they know of the history of wrecks. so there's these variety of techniques and tools you use in a tool kit before you find a wreck and then a variety of sort of detective kind of work,
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diagnostic testing and cross referencing archives after you find something, so you're not having some kind of confirmation bias, right. this wreck, but even beyond that when you find a wreck, when we found this wreck and were ready to sort of confirm what it was to ourselves and begin to talk about could this be, you know, what we think it is -- >> what's the time frame for this? >> we're talking about a period of about seven or eight years. and in particular because this site is like a washing machine for people to work on. you can't get on to it almost you're at certain points of the year. the divers who can get on to it, have to be very experienced and know what they're doing and then they'll uncover, dredge sand up in order to get to some of the material that we found and they'll come back the next day and it will be covered over by six it feet more of sand.
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all that said, when we began to realize what we had, we realized that we didn't just uncover a ship. what we uncovered was a story that connected the world, right. our research had taken us to archives in the netherlands, in portugal, in mozambique, in capetown itself, and over to brazil. and so what had been a story about a single ship has defined, you know, something much more, something global, and that clearly depended on the expertise, knowledge, skills and capacity of the team that lonnie referenced. this international team. no one person, no one spmall group of people could have done this work on their own. that's the power. >> what do we have from the ship? what will we be seeing at the
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museum? >> well, i think we're still obviously diving on the ship, so one of the things we know we have are these iron ballhas and it's one of the tell-tale time because human cargo is light so you need ballhas to give that balance to the ship. we're going to bring up a piece -- a cup of the ballhases pieces and we're also going to bring a pulley that talks about how the sails were used, et cetera, but i'm still looking for a tiny piece of wood from the hull of the ship. in essence, we're still diving that because i think that gives us a kind of -- a term of the piece of the true cross, so i want something not a whole ship, because you can't find -- but i want people to be able to sort of create an evocative moment where they can look at these pieces and begin to think about what this means, who these people were, what their loss was, what did they sacrifice for
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all of us, and that in essence to really say this was not an example of an attempt to do sort of a rather pedestrian exhibit, rather this is a chance for you to sort of almost revel in and wrestle with this history in an evocative way. >> and i think that's what, you know, our museum really strives to do and succeeds in doing so well. and you think about the importance of this story, african-american story, and its centrality, not just to the story of america, but to the world, and the things that we've been finding, often are incredible, are iconic, right. sometimes they're incredibly beautiful and iconic and sometimes they're iconic because they're so -- they've been -- objects that have been cast away. they're wrecks. they're remnants. they're rags.
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and with the work that we're doing to showcase them, to put them in a platform, to put them in a few lens to help people understand tease objects that might be as simple as an iron bar, or as simple as a piece of wood, and to look at them in a new light adds a whole new depth and knowledge to what we're doing and i think in some ways, that's what we do. that's what we do best. >> of the 200 -- more than 200 slaves who didn't make it off the ship, is there any expectation of finding any human remains or bones in this wreck? >> i think that as the work uncovers over the years to come, i would expect we probably will find some human remains and what our commitment is to return those remains to mozambique, to let them sort of lay in their
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native soil. we haven't found any yet, but as paul was saying, one of the real challenges of this site is that if you remove the sand, quickly it is replaced again so there's a lot of work that has to be done, but i think we will probably find human remains. >> what about the chains that held these people in the hull? >> we have i think we've found a chain that's sort of encrusted, if you will. we will find iron work like that and we'll eventually bring pieces of that back to the museum as well. i think that what we would like to do is, in essence, say when you walk into the museum and you see this, you will see the pieces from the ship, you'll also see an om mu let from the tribe, a west african tribe, that was to protect them from being taken as slaves, and you'll then also see a slave
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shackle, a shackle really designed for children, small shackle, and be in a darkened space, and then you'll hear periodically voices describing what the slave trade was like, what the middle passage was like, but really, just an evocative space. we think this will be something that the visitors will always remember. >> will this be right at the entrance of the museum? >> it's going to be near the beginning of the history exhibitions. the pew seem has basically three floors of galleries. one is a historical narrative that takes you from africa well into the 21st century. another floor looks at the role of culture. another floor looks at the role of community. so that in essence, this will be one of the iconic moments in the museum. >> and when does the museum open? >> the museum will open in the fall of 2016. we promised president obama he will get to cut the ribbon and
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that's going to be the case. we are probably roughly a year away from opening. . >> what will it mean to you that day with the first african-american president being there for the opening, right across from the white house right near the washington monument? >> in some ways this whole journey for me, now more than ten years, has been an unbelievably humbling journey and some ways what it will mean is a couple things. it will mean that, first of all, the facial mall is the place where the world comes to learn what it means to be an american, and now we'll have a smuseum tht will enrich and maybe completes the way we begin to understand who we are as americans so to see people engaging with that is going to be very moving and i guess the other piece is that one of the joys of this process and the joys of the smithsonian is at the smithsonian, there's a place where people will come and wrestle with important questions, that they might not wrestle with in chicago or a
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museum in l.a. or a museum in new york. because they're coming to do the smithsonian, because they trust the smithsonian, this gives us an amazing educational opportunity to engage with maybe thousands and maybe millions of people who might not explore this subject anywhere else, but here we're going to get a chance to educate the world and share the story because it's part of the smithsonian. >> and paul gardullo, you're the curator of the museum. are all of the exhibits going to be ready that day? >> well, i'm one of the curators of the museum and that gives me extreme confidence that yes all the exhibits will be ready. we have an incredible team of curators, of collections people, of project managers, of administrators, working to make sure that we not only open on time, but open with the best museum that the mall will have and i think that -- and i say that with no small sense of pride and a smile.
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but i also think that what's crucial to remember is that in addition to the national museum on the national mall, which is an incredibly important site and will remain an incredibly important site for people to come to from around the world, our work exists in communities all across the nation and the slave wrecks project gives us an opportunity to talk about our work around the world and the impact that this museum has on helping to build capacity, on helping to bring these kinds of conversations to people as far flung as mozambique, to charleston, south carolina, to oakland, california. i think these are the kind of ways that we see our work, curators to director alike, as engaging in the world, right. we're here, yes, on the national mall, but we're also out in a
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variety of communities and a variety of important ways. >> go ahead. >> some ways the goal is pretty simple. the goal is that yes, this will be the first green museum on the national mall and yes, just as you've heard, there's amazing collections that people will be amazed at seeing, and people will be impressed and educated and engaged by the exhibitions. but the reality is, the job of this museum is to make america better. it's to begin to create a safe space where difficult questions around race, around poverty, around the possibility of america, are engaged and allow people to use history as a wonderfully useful tool to help them live their lives. so that on the one hand, it's great to be a good museum. we will be a good museum. but we also want to be a place that matters, that gives people that value, helps them realize
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that we're still being divided, challenged, hurt, by issues of race. and unless we find the safe space to debate, to discuss, to prod, to wrestle with, to understand, we'll always be divided that way as a nation. >> for the ship, is it going to be a permanent exhibit at the museum? how long will it be there? >> the ship right now, we're looking at a ten-year period. my hope would be that part of the work that we're doing with other entities around the world, will allow us to then periodically bring in newer finds. newer discoveries. expanding our notions of these ships. be able to find something that may have left the west coast of africa or something that was in brazil or the caribbean so that what our goal is, is to use the ship as a launching pad for what we hope will be a many year project that allows us to both showcase the work of other people, but also to help people
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begin to understand maybe one ship at a time how complicated, how large, how essential the slave trade is to our understanding of who we are globally today. >> and i know as you looked at some of those other wrecks, the ship, the recovery effort, was kept under wraps for several years out of fear of treasure hunters or others coming to the site. are there other projects that you're currently working on that are also under wraps right now? >> well, we're working in a number of areas around the world. our partners with the national park service and their submerged resources center, we've actively begun to do surveying work in and around st. croix and the u.s. virgin islands. we know of archival material that document wrecks there. and we began a process with them in the lead really in terms of beginning that process of survey
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and the smithsonian is coming in to begin a process of community engagement and research that is connecting to communities there. now not all of these sites may prove to have wrecks like the ship does, but all of these sites, whether they're in st. croix or our it continued work and discussions in cuba or senegal as lonnie mentioned before or other sites, what they all do is contain potential and almost or more importantly, contain those crucial historical and community building elements to have these conversations around these trades, around these ships, around these vectors and trajectories of this trade that shape the whole world. >> we've said several times that you don't have the names of any of these individual slaves who either lived or died in the s p shipwreck. do you wish you had a name or is
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the wreck enough ? >> well you wish you could hopper them by calling their name. there's a long tradition in many communities, the african-american communities, as long as you can say someone's name they're never gone, they're never without. i wish we could say the name. since we can't say the names, we can honor their spirits by remembering through the ship, remembering through those sort of relics if you will that we're able it to find, and our hope is yes, as we do this work, maybe we'll find names, but the reality is, you're probably not going to in most cases. what you really want people to do is recognize that though they may be nameless, though
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corners, we can find that reconciliation and healing that is so essential to this nation. >> do you think people will find that healing at this exhibit? >> i think they will. i mean i know they will because of what we experienced this summer. right. i mean i think that what we experienced this summer in terms of africans engaging with this story of slavery, was revealtory. everybody will come to this with their own history, right. everybody is going to come to this with their own sense of personal or ethnic or national
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sort of understanding or connection or a feeling of lack of connection to this history. but what we're finding when we open this story up to the world, to anyone, is that we can find a connection for everyone to this story. maybe not personally, like through linage, but the story of humanity and the story of the fact and the power of the ship that ought to touch and can touch anyone and help to change them. >> lonnie bunch, before we go, you said that you were told when you were in mozambique that this is your ancestors telling you what you need to do. what do you think they'll be saying when this exhibit opens at the national museum? >> what i hope is that my ancestors are smiling, smiling because they're no longer forgotten, smiling because the
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struggle, the story of their lives, is really an inspiration and hopefully smiling because finally they get to fill out the narrative of helping us all understand who we are and how we've all been shaped by the slave trade and by slavery. because people forget the slave trade is the first real international global business, so so many nations of europe make their money, provide the founing days through the slave trade and slavery itself is the economic engine of the united states, brazil, so what we want people to do is yes, understand the story through the eyes of those enslaved, we're also recognizing even if you weren't enslaved you were shaped in powerful ways by this experience. >> lonnie bunch director of the national museum of the african-american history and culture, paul gardullo is one of the curators there, thanks so much for joining us on american history tv.
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>> thank you. >> thank you. >> you're watching american history tv. all weekend every weekend, on c-span 3. to join the conversation, like us on facebook, at c-span history. >> to innothing grate the one-year countdown to the grand opening of the museum of african-american history and culture the museum hosted an evening of music and speeches that culminated in historic imagery on the building's exterior walls and repeated over two succeeding nights. the museum on the national mall within sight of the national monument and white house. c-span's american history tv was there as founding director lonnie bunch introduced the museum's major themes. this is about an hour and 15 minutes. >> welcome all to this special commemoration and celebration of


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