A traveling exhibit on slave-era plantation life that its developer said had drawn plaudits from black audiences was dismantled just before its scheduled opening at the Library of Congress after some black staffers objected.
The exhibit, which is to booked for appearances into 1997, brings together architectural and portrait photographs and Depression-era interviews with former slaves in the library's collection. It was to have opened Tuesday.Library spokeswoman Jill D. Brett said the black employees objected that the display "really didn't set the exhibit in any historic context" and took "a very narrow approach to the kind of architecture and culture of plantation life without taking the horrors of slavery into account."
But the exhibit's curator, George Washington University professor John Michael Vlach, said the thrust of the display was to show how slaves rose above their condition to make accomplishments.
"Without question, slavery was an evil," Vlach said in a telephone interview, and some of the displayed narratives with former slaves, conducted by the Federal Writers Project in the 1930s, referred to whippings and other cruelties by plantation masters and overseers.
The display had been reviewed by three experts - two of them black - and approved by library officials, Vlach and Brett said. And Vlach said it had gotten a good reception at colleges, including historically black ones, where it had appeared.
Vlach, who holds dual appointments in American studies and anthropology at George Washington, based the 80-photograph exhibit on his book, "Back of the Big House: The Cultural Landscape of the Plantation."
Joann Jenkins, the library's senior adviser for diversity, told The Washington Post that about 20 black staffers and some white ones were offended by the display, and she took their complaints to Associate Librarian of Congress Winston Tab.
He decided the exhibit "wasn't worth it" and it was taken down, she said.