KKK outfit and American quilt – new acquisitions for the International Slavery Museum

KKK outfit and American quilt – new acquisitions for the International Slavery Museum

A 1920s Ku Klux Klan outfit has been donated to the forthcoming International Slavery Museum in Liverpool as a horrific reminder of the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade.

The object will be an important part of the legacy section of the gallery, which explores the positive and negative effects of the trade throughout the world. Very few objects of this kind are on display outside the US.

Consisting of a hood, robe, cloak and rope belt and made from white cotton with mother of pearl buttons, the outfit comes from a branch of the KKK which operated in Orange County, New York.

The legacy section will address issues such as freedom, identity, human rights, reparations, racial discrimination and cultural change. The museum will also seek to address ignorance and misunderstanding by looking at the deep and permanent impact of slavery and the slave trade on Africa, South America, the USA, the Caribbean and Western Europe.

David Fleming, Director of National Museums Liverpool, said: ‘I’m sure some people will be shocked to be confronted in Liverpool by such a sinister object, dripping with hatred and viciousness, but then these are living legacies of the slave trade, which Liverpool dominated. Racial hatred lives on, and we can only hope to understand and counter it if we know about the history of the slave trade. Ignoring it, as many of us have done in Britain for 200 years, is not an option if we wish to see a society which is characterised by the celebration of difference and by equality for all.’

Within the same section, close to the KKK outfit, will be a quilt recently created by the women of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, a small rural community settled in the curve of the Alabama River on the site of what was once a cotton plantation owned by Joseph Gee and his relatives.

Quilting is a long-held tradition in America, dating back to the days when slave women used scraps of discarded material to create intricate designs. The unique aesthetics of these quilts comes out of the oppression experienced by slaves who were stripped of their identities, religions and languages, and could only find self expression in their music, dance and art.

Over the centuries the women of Gee’s Bend have developed a distinctive, bold and sophisticated quilting style based on traditional American (and African American) quilts, with a geometric style reminiscent of Amish quilts and modern art.

The Gee’s Bend Quilters Collective is owned and operated by the women of Gee’s Bend, guaranteeing each quilt is a unique, individually produced, and authentic piece of art.

The galleries of the International Slavery Museum will open in Liverpool on 23 August, Slavery Remembrance Day 2007, a day that commemorates an uprising of enslaved Africans on the island of St Domingo (modern Haiti and the Dominican Republic) in 1791. Designated by UNESCO, the date was chosen as a reminder that enslaved Africans were the main agents of their own liberation.

The museum will feature new dynamic and thought-provoking displays about the story of the transatlantic slave trade. A second phase of the project, due to open in 2010, will include the development of a new visitor-focused education centre with an events programme of performance, public lectures and debate using the newly-acquired Dock Traffic Office. A research institute based in the museum is being developed in partnership with the University of Liverpool.

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