Sandy Spring Slave Museum and African Art Gallery
The Sandy Spring Slave Museum and African Art Gallery is a cultural gem in one of Montgomery County Maryland’s most historical cities. For more than twenty years, Dr. Winston Anderson, the museum's founder, has pursued his goal of displaying the significant African/ African American contributions in the building of America.
Even though the museum’s location is not as convenient to some visitors as Washington, DC’s Smithsonian museums with a similar mission, it is perfectly situated on land previously owned by descendants of slaves manumitted by Sandy Spring Quakers during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
The shady acre lot on Brooke Road is home to structures, statues, and a museum building that focus on the heritage of Blacks and are symbolic of struggles that began with the origins and forced migration from Africa and continues to this day.
Inside the Arts Pavilion, one of the structures on the museum grounds, is a collection of instruments, textiles, furniture and other artifacts from across the worldwide African Diaspora. The Pavilion was built in 1994 to honor Nelson Mandela and the N’debele tribe of South Africa. The Pavilion’s design mimics the polygonal shape of huts still used today by the N’debele tribe. The stained glass panels bridge old world and new world artistic expression.
The Middle Passage is represented by a cross-section of a slaving clipper ship that was built in 1988. The Middle Passage refers to the second or middle leg of the transatlantic trade triangle for ships that left Europe for African markets with commercial goods which were traded for kidnapped Africans. In the Americas, the Africans were sold or traded as commodities for raw materials which would be transported back to Europe.
Through the clear Plexiglas viewing window, visitors can see the crowded, sordid living conditions experienced by slaves during their cross-Atlantic journey to the Americas. Often with stops in the Caribbean, these journeys took three to twelve months to complete. During that time, the slaves were shackled and kept below deck in close quarters where disease and starvation were rampant. Only the strong survived the crossing. Up to half and sometime more of the slaves succumbed to the astounding hardships experienced during their time aboard the ships. Perhaps as many as two million Africans perished during the three centuries of the cross-Atlantic slave trade. This sad period in our history ended in the 1890s.
Also in the shade of the mature trees on the museum grounds is a one and a half story log cabin typical of the living conditions for the poor during the slavery and post-slavery eras. Built with logs that date back to circa 1850, the cabin was dismantled in 1992 and relocated to its present site from the Hallowell Farm in nearby Olney, Maryland. One room cabins like this would have been home to large families with as many as 10 – 12 members.
A statue on the museum’s front lawn was created by students of the Art Institute in Kumasi, Ghana. The stone statue, entitled Freedom through Education, Unity and Strength, is of a Black man and woman with arms stretched skyward and holding a platform on which stands an eagle, the American symbol of freedom. In front of a rear parking lot stands another statue entitled Man in A Bowl. It was also created by the by students of the Art Institute in Kumasi, Ghana.
Along the pathway between the clipper ship and the log cabin are several free-standing bronze plaques recognizing people and groups for their contributions to the success of Sandy Spring's Black community. One of the plaques salutes Quakers who founded Sandy Spring and were more progressive in race relations than the rest of the American citizens. The plaque salutes the Quakers' "efforts, convictions and dedication to the creed that all persons should be free". In the late 18th century, Quakers embraced abolition and demonstrated their support by freeing slaves and offfering parcels of land to the newly-freed men and women. Even though slavery was officially abolished in 1865, Sandy Spring slaves were emancipated more than three decades earlier.
Another weather worn plaque along the path is dedicated to the families and especially the men of Sandy Spring. Family names on the plaque include Awkard and an alternate spelling of Offord. As we stood in the Offord Room of the museum which displayed many sephia and black and white family photos, James Offord, a descendent of one of the early settlers, told me that the family name was changed when a white attorney did not like the pronunciation of Awkard. Offord, a gregarious, jovial 82 year old also known as "Sweet Man", told me about the health benefits of water in the nearby springs that contributed to the longevity of Sandy Spring's residents.
Also saluted on a bronze sign erected in 1996 are ten women of Sandy Spring and the surrounding area who no doubt were instrumental in the continued growth and development of the nearby African American community.
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