Friday, April 11, 2008

Oaklands to showcase new exhibit

The Oaklands Historic House Museum will showcase "Beyond the Plantation," a new exhibit about the history of slavery in Murfreesboro beginning May 1.

The museum received a community enhancement grant from the Tennessee State Department and since fall 2007 has partnered with the MTSU history department to develop the exhibit. The project is for students in Brenden Martin's museum management course who plan to pursue graduate degrees in art or philosophy.

The focus of the project this semester is on the collection of materials, as well as the design and installation of the exhibit. The students have researched and discovered numerous documents, including census records, bills of sale, and slave narratives to account for the lives of some of Oaklands' slaves.

"This project is special because a lot of plantation museums tend to brush over slavery because it is a difficult subject," said John George, a Ph.D candidate in public history and project manager for the exhibit.

Most museums tend to go with the "Gone with the Wind" version of slavery that caters to wide audiences, but Oaklands has done an excellent job of attempting to accurately interpret slavery during the 1800s, George said.

It is hoped that this exhibit will allow people to come away with the realization that these were real human beings that were bought and sold, and that slavery had a huge impact on their lives, George said.

The Oakland plantation was built in 1813 with land that Sallie Murfree Maney had inherited from her father, Col. Hardee Murfree. It is thought that before the Civil War the Maneys owned at least 250 slaves between the Oaklands plantation and their plantation in Mississippi.

The exhibit will feature four aspects of slavery: Plantation Culture, Civil War, Emancipation, and Legacies. The Legacies theme in particular will illustrate the lives of some of the slaves that lived and worked on the 274 acre-plantation the Maney family owned.

One such story is that of Elma McKnight, a current resident of Murfreesboro and a direct descendant of David and Lucy Maney. After emancipation, David Maney became one of the founding members of the First Baptist Church that still exists today. McKnight has been providing photos and information of her ancestry to the museum for display with the exhibit.

She is a part of just one of the seven or eight generations of Maney descendants that still lives in Rutherford county.

Instead of being offended by the subject of slavery, she is proud of where she came from and what her family has done. McKnight said she doesn't begrudge the past and that slavery "was what it was."

She often tells her children that they are not "descendants of slaves, but descendants of an enslaved people."

McKnight also said she always remembered her grandmother saying, "We are the Maney girls," something that meant little to her until now.

Natasha Smith

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