New-York Historical Society to Feature Another Slavery Exhibit
How did New York City of the mid-19th century capitalize on the slave-based cotton trade to emerge as the financial epicenter of America? How did New York become a veritable Confederate city, with hotels catering to Southern tastes and blackface minstrel shows playing to sold-out theaters? Who was America’s first black doctor and politician, and how did this little-known hero help inspire the abolitionist movement that was critical to bringing slavery to an end?
The New-York Historical Society (www.nyhistory.org) will take a penetrating look at these and other questions in its provocative new show, New York Divided: Slavery and the Civil War, opening November 17, 2006 and running through September 3, 2007.
The exhibition, spearheaded by Society President and CEO Louise Mirrer, marks the final installation of a two-year, three-part examination of the history and legacy of slavery in New York and the nation. It began last fall with the critically acclaimed Slavery in New York, followed by Legacies: Contemporary Artists Reflect on Slavery, a contemporary art exhibition created around the theme of slavery and its stark historical repercussions.
New York Divided completes the story begun in Slavery in New York – this time introducing a surprising look at a politically, economically, and racially divided city of the mid-1800s. The exhibition’s chief historian, James Oliver Horton (the Benjamin Banneker Professor of American Studies and History at George Washington University and the co-author of the companion book to the 2005 PBS series Slavery and the Making of America) suggests that New York Divided “brings to life a city that was the economic capital of the capital that was financing the South.” According to Horton, the influx of capital from the cotton trade led to a wave of pro-Southern sentiment coloring the cultural fabric of the city. This financial interdependence with the South fueled the underlying tensions that characterized mid-19th century New York – black and white, wealthy and poor, pro-South and abolitionist – and that eventually came to a head, culminating in the bloody Draft Riots of 1863.
Curator Richard Rabinowitz, president of the American History Workshop, will reprise the most successful elements of Slavery in New York to create a multi-media, immersive visitor experience. Rabinowitz has drawn upon the collections of major historical institutions across the country -- especially the New-York Historical Society’s unrivaled collection of documents, newspapers, playbills, paintings and artifacts -- to recreate pivotal New York environments, including the Park Theater, a counting house, the Franklin House Hotel, and an 1834 Black Convention.
Combining soundscapes, video reenactments and unexpected elements such as an authentic bale of cotton from a Louisiana cotton museum, New York Divided will offer visitors a unique entrée into the divided city.
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