A replica of a slave cabin, built by former Sedalia psychologist Margaret Harlan, 85, has been a controversial subject the last few months, so much so that the story was propelled into the national media spotlight in August.
“I wanted to present the history in a venue that was possibly more accessible and less threatening,” Harlan, who is White, told the Democrat in April. “It’s a turbulent issue, I knew it would be. To me, you go through that to get well.”
Time may be on Harlan’s side; negative opinions may be ever so slowly shifting.
On Saturday a visit by Karen Jones Meadows, a well known producer, writer, actress and educator, provided a different perspective on the cabin at East Cooper Street and North Ohio Avenue. Meadows, originally from the Bronx, now lives near Albuquerque, New Mexico. On Saturday she toured the Rose M. Nolen Black History Library, the cabin and gardens. She is Black.
Meadows is part of the University of Missouri-Columbia Concert Series. She will be giving relationship workshops this week at the university as well as a performance Tuesday night in a one woman show “Karen Jones Meadows’ Harriet’s Return: Based Upon the Legendary Life of Harriet Tubman.” She toured the cabin with several MU students and with MU Communications Manager Karlan Seville and retired Vice Chancellor of Human Resources Karen Touzeau.
Meadows doesn’t see the cabin as a negative, but see’s the “possibilities.”
“I really am glad I came,” she said. “I think it’s wonderful. What I think, is that there needs to be an integration with the community, with the programming, I think that’s where the disconnect comes.”
She added that the cabin project needed to reflect the “people’s ideas so it’s not just what Marge comes up with.”
“It also occurred to me when I was in there, is she might need a Black partner,” Meadows noted. “Like a serious Black partner who could help not just publicize, but open the conversation.”
Meadows added that a partner could act as an advocate that would assist with the “potential” of the cabin and grounds.
“(They) could also help Marge to understand some other aspects of empowerment that might not be here yet,” she noted. “The general issue is it’s about the past. But, it’s about the past in context of the present and the future, and that’s what’s most important. … It’s about the resilience. It’s about how we built this country …”
She mentioned that many in the Sedalia community felt the cabin was negative, often comparing it to a replica of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp.
“To me that’s not it,” she said. “Jews go to Auschwitz all the time to see what happened to relatives. To me, my great, great, great and beyond were living in these circumstances. But, I’m here which means they must have been doing something that kept them alive and kept their spirit going or I wouldn’t be here. I want to see where that is, I want to understand how they went beyond that …”
She stated that one of the problems of the cabin could be how others interpret Harlan’s exhibits. All of the “art” is work from White artists depicting Black people instead of Black artists depicting Black people.
“I will tell you one thing that’s in there that’s great, is the Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (exhibit),” Meadows said.
To bring a better understanding, Meadows suggested showing a video about Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome and then having a “conversation” with those who tour the building.
“The Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, that’s pretty fascinating and it rings true,” she noted.
With the present state of racial tension across the U.S. and the rise in all types of shootings, Meadows expressed concern with how people got to the point where they overrode issues of right and wrong. She mentioned how her friend witnessed a drive-by shooting, where a youth was killed, in Chicago this past summer.
She and her friend discussed that throughout history all races have had issues with “enslavement of some sort.”
“There is something within you, that no matter what’s going on, unless it gets shut down, that says this is wrong,” she noted. “So, what pushes you past the wrong to kill somebody 12-years-old? What does that?”
Meadows stated she believed today’s youth are not taught necessary values and she plans to create a series for television or the Internet that will help break through this social conundrum.
“I’m doing it because the children are raising themselves, and they need a manual as far as I’m concerned,” she noted. “Because nobody’s teaching the children, and this crosses race … and they don’t know what to do. They look to us for guidance … people say the children are the future, but the adults are the present. If the present is all crazy, the children are going to be crazy too.”
During her tour Meadows took time to visit with neighbors living next to the cabin.
“It’s the young people who are upset,” Allen Carter told Jones and the others. “Because they don’t understand what happened back in the day. It’s history. Some want to burn it down, I said ‘no your kids need to know about this.’”
Carter, who lives with his brother Tyrone Carter and his 6-year-old son Steven Ivy, said he’d been over to see the cabin and was also there as it was being constructed.
Mark Kelly who was visiting the Carters Saturday said he wasn’t offended by the cabin.
“I don’t see anything wrong with it,” Kelly said. “I think the young people need to see the history.”
Touzeau said she thought it was “noteworthy” that she was visiting the cabin in Sedalia, with Meadows, as the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture was being opened in Washington D.C. on Saturday.
“On the day that our President dedicates the museum, we have kind of a symbol of where we started (here) and now a symbol in Washington D.C. of where we’ve come,” she said. “That’s just kind of a beautiful connection between (them), you have to look both retrospectively and prospectively.”
Meadows will present “Karen Jones Meadows’ Harriet’s Return: Based Upon the Legendary Life of Harriet Tubman” at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Missouri Theatre in Columbia. She will also give two workshops from 3 to 5 p.m. Wednesday at the Missouri Theatre and from 1 to 5 p.m. Thursday at Missouri United Methodist Church 204 S. Ninth St. in Columbia. For more information visit http://www.karenjonesmeadows.com.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.