On view in the new museum, the woodframe dwelling evokes the aspirations and limitations of the era following enslavement
When I was a little girl,” says Chanell Kelton, “I used to tell my friends that my house is one of the oldest houses in Maryland.”
In fact, the two-story home where Kelton took her very first steps was built around 1875. It was the first house built in what became the free African-American community of Jonesville in rural Montgomery County, Maryland. Named after its founders Richard and Erasmus Jones, ancestors who Kelton lovingly referred to as her “uncles,” the community gave former slaves their first tangible taste of freedom.
“Those are my ancestors… During the holidays in what we would call the old kitchen, we would always have our holiday dinners…and have the candles on the table,” Kelton, 32, recalls. “Just sitting down and having that meal in the original part of the house was a very spiritual moment. It felt like our ancestors were right there with us.”
That home, stripped down from 140 years of additions and siding, was acquired in 2009 by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and has been rebuilt as part of an exhibition called “Defending Freedom, Defining Freedom: The Era of Segregation.” Visitors will be able to stand inside of the house, a symbol of pride and possibilities for a family that once worked at a nearby plantation. Smithsonian staff call it the “Freedom House.”
SMITHSONIAN MUSEUM, WASHINGTON, D.C.
After years of little success, a much more serious legislative push began in 1988 that led to authorization of the museum in 2003. A site was selected in 2006, and a museum design approved in 2009. President Barack Obama helped break ground for the building on February 22, 2012. First concrete was poured in November 2012, and construction will be complete in April 2016. Smithsonian officials have announced that the museum will open on September 24, 2016.
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