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Exhibit looks at slavery through media's eyes

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Jeylin White

jwhite@news-daily.com

When you walk into the lobby of the National Archives at Atlanta, you will likely be greeted by a soft-spoken woman, who ushers you into a room with dim lights. You look around, and see the postings, the displays of various news articles, pictures -- and advertisements of enslaved men, women and children.

In the background is the sound of old Negro Spirituals, resonating in the air, invoking strong emotions and thoughts of the tormenting lessons of history.

You are experiencing the National Archives' latest exhibit -- "Slavery and Freedom in Black and White: The African American Experience in Nineteenth Century Newspapers."

The collection of newspapers chronicles the African-American experience of the 1800s, recorded on the now-aged, ink-filled pages of text, illustrations and pictures.

"It may not be February, when Black History month is normally acknowledged," said Evelyn Tomlin, public programs specialist for The National Archives, "but we should recognize black history everyday."

The official opening of the exhibit is set for July, 8, from 6 p.m., to 7 p.m., at the Archives building, located at 5780 Jonesboro Road, in Morrow.

"This exhibit," Tomlin said, "will help raise awareness as to how African Americans were depicted during this time period. There will be several advertisements of slave auctions and the abolitionist movement during the Civil War period."

The formal opening of the exhibit will include guest speakers, Dr. Adam Tate, an associate professor of history at Clayton State University, and Janis Ware, publisher of The Atlanta Voice, an African-American newspaper in Atlanta.

Tate said he will present an in-depth discussion on how enslaved men and women were portrayed through the media during the 19th Century. "The media is a powerful tool today, and it was during the 19th Century," he said. "People will get to see just how the institution of slavery was perceived in this era."

Janis Ware, Tomlin added, will speak about the importance of newspapers.

Tate said that, through this exhibit, people will see several political messages from the abolitionists, who were fighting to end slavery, and, at the same time, advertisements seeking the return of runaway slaves.

"People will see that slaves did not want to be enslaved," he said. "Some people thought slavery was a natural part of life."

Tomlin said the idea to host the exhibit came when a resident of College Park, Christine Mitchell, contacted her about the collection of newspapers she had. Mitchell said she began collecting the newspapers back in the late 1980's, and "I wanted to teach my kids about slavery, so I did a lot of research to locate collectors, and it just evolved from there."

She added that she put together a traveling exhibit, taking the collection to different schools. She would dress in costumes, and show the newspapers. "Eventually, I got my daughters involved and we started to do Civil War reenactments."

Mithchell said she was looking to do a travailing, history, trunk show with all the newspapers she had collected, and that's when she contacted the Washington D.C. National Archives.

"I called them, and they gave me the number to the Atlanta Archives," she said. "They agreed to meet with me in person. I showed them my display. They loved it, and asked me to do an exhibit to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War."

The earliest newspaper in Mitchell's collection is the "Connecticut Courant" from 1792. It features articles about abolitionist, William Willbeforce, attempting to end the African slave trade. The "newest" paper in Mitchell's collection is "Harper's Weekly" from 1865, and covers Abraham Lincoln's second inauguration.

"This will be a very good exhibit," said Tate. "Americans need to understand what slavery was all about, and this exhibit takes you through that era."

The exhibit, Tomlin added, is free to the public, and will be on display through the month of October.