SOURCE: National Civil Rights Museum

National Civil Rights Museum

September 07, 2016 09:58 ET

Purchased Lives Exhibit Comes to the National Civil Rights Museum

Exhibition to Explore Domestic Slave Trade in America

MEMPHIS, TN--(Marketwired - September 07, 2016) - The powerful and poignant traveling exhibition "Purchased Lives: The American Slave Trade from 1808 to 1865" is coming to National Civil Rights Museum on September 12, thanks to support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Curated and originally hosted by The Historic New Orleans Collection, the display examines one of the most challenging eras of U.S. history. It will be on view in the Museum's State of Tennessee Gallery through November 27, 2016. Visitors are welcome during hours of operation.

The exhibition covers a 57-year period, from America's abolition of the international slave trade through the end of the Civil War. During this time, more than two million people were forcibly moved within the boundaries of the United States and its territories, wreaking havoc on the lives of enslaved men, women and children. Owners and traders in the Upper South -- Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia and Washington, DC -- sold and shipped surplus laborers to the expanding Lower South. For many enslaved people their long and difficult journeys led them to New Orleans -- the largest slave market in antebellum America -- where they were then sold and scattered to points across Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

Unlike many southern cites, New Orleans did not confine its slave trade to a single market structure or even a handful of locations. Slaves were sold at auction blocks in the luxurious St. Louis Hotel in the French Quarter, in private residences, in public parks and on the decks of ships moored along the Mississippi River. The sheer volume of the trade and the sprawling nature of the market within New Orleans were unmatched elsewhere. The exhibition's narrative is not limited to New Orleans, however. It examines a complex and divisive period of American history, helping viewers learn about the far-reaching economic and heartbreaking personal impact of the domestic slave trade.

"The story of the Middle Passage is a familiar one, but the domestic slave trade involved more than twice the number of people brought from Africa and the Caribbean to America prior to 1808," said Erin M. Greenwald, curator of the exhibition and historian at THNOC. "As home to the largest slave market, New Orleans played a major role in this complex and divisive period in our history, and it deserves to be better incorporated into our understanding of who we are as Americans."

"'Purchased Lives' communicates the depth of the slave trade industry. We cannot truly appreciate the resistance work of abolitionists and the black community until we fully understand the nature of the slave trade. This exhibition provides an in-depth historical context of people of African descent in America," said Dr. Noelle Trent, the Museum's Director of Interpretation, Collections and Education.

"Purchased Lives: The American Slave Trade from 1808 to 1865" includes more than 75 original items, including period broadsides, paintings and prints illustrating the domestic slave trade, ship manifests and first-person accounts from slave narratives and oral histories. The display also includes a collection of "Lost Friends" ads placed after the Civil War by newly freed people attempting to locate family members. Three interactive displays will allow visitors to engage directly with the historical record, including a database tracking the shipment of more than 70,000 people to New Orleans from other US ports.

The objects on view represent items from The Historic New Orleans Collection as well as artifacts from the Belmont Mansion in Nashville; Evergreen Plantation in Edgard, Louisiana; the Louisiana State Museum; the Midlo Center for New Orleans Studies at the University of New Orleans; the New Orleans Notarial Archives; the Touro Infirmary Archives and private collections.

In addition to funding the travel expenses for this exhibition, the NEH grant will also support exhibition-related programming and teacher workshops at each host site.

Related Events at the National Civil Rights Museum:

  • September 12, 6:00pm - Exhibit Opening Reception - State of Tennessee Gallery
  • September 29, 6:00pm - Exhibit Lecture, "Franklin, Armfield, and Ballard: The Men Who Made the Domestic Slave Trade into Big Business," with author Dr. Joshua Rothman - Ford Motor Company Theatre
  • September 30, 8:30am-4:30pm - Teacher Workshop with curator Erin Greenwald and author Edward Ball
  • November 10, 6:00pm - Exhibit Lecture, "Female Soul Drivers, Lady Flesh Stealers, and She-Merchants in the American Slave Trade," with historian Stephanie Jones-Rogers.

For more information, including details on exhibition-related programming, visit

About the National Civil Rights Museum

The NATIONAL CIVIL RIGHTS MUSEUM, located at the historic Lorraine Motel where civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, is the only Museum of its kind in the country that gives a comprehensive overview of the American Civil Rights Movement from 1619 to the present. Since the Museum opened in 1991, millions of visitors from around the world have come, including more than 70,000 students annually. Serving as the new public square, the Museum is steadfast in its mission to chronicle the American civil rights movement, examine today's global civil and human rights issues, provoke thoughtful debate and serve as a catalyst for positive social change.

An internationally acclaimed cultural institution, the Museum was recognized as USA Today's Top 10 Best American Iconic Attractions; Top 10 Best Historical Spots in the U.S. by TLC's Family Travel; Must See by the Age of 15 by Budget Travel and Kids; Top 10, American Treasures by USA Today; Best Memphis Attraction by The Commercial Appeal and Top Tourist Attractions List by Memphis Business Journal.

About The Historic New Orleans Collection

Founded in 1966, The Historic New Orleans Collection is a museum, research center and publisher dedicated to the study and preservation of the history and culture of New Orleans and the Gulf South. For more information, visit or call (504) 523-4662.

About the National Endowment for the Humanities

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at

"Purchased Lives: The American Slave Trade from 1808 to 1865" has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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