The Press and Standard
Tuesday, June 24, 2003
by Sarah Kucharski
“Celebration marks the last slave to be set free”
Storytellers, sweetgrass baskets and history lessons marked the annual Juneteenth celebration at Walterboro’s Slave Relic Museum Saturday afternoon.
Juneteenth commemorates the month during which the last slave was freed, said museum curator Danny Drain. The holiday is quickly becoming one of the most celebrated by the African-American community, second only to the December holiday of Kwanzaa.
Approximately 20 small groups from New York, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina visited the museum to participate in the celebration, Drain said.
The museum is located in a historic home on Carn Street, less than a block away from City Hall. Its rooms are filled with a hodgepodge collection of artwork, handmade beds, quilts and books about the slave trade.
But stored in glass cases are the darker artifacts of the period-shackles, whips and branding irons. Drain collected these historical markers over the course of the past 10 years, he said. Formerly an antiques dealer, he decided to open a museum in Walterboro to return to where his parents were raised and explore his own heritage.
Drain partnered up with Civil War antique dealers and spoke with several African-American families who had passed down their ancestors’ belongings. The resulting collection features some of the rarest quilts on record and has drawn the attention of larger, more well-known institutions such as National Geographic and the Smithsonian.
“Most of the major museums didn’t have slave exhibits,” Drain said. “Now you have a lot of museums starting to specialize.”
The Slave Relic Museum has lent out pieces including handmade washboards fitted with iron bands for scrubbing and will be a partner with Charleston’s upcoming slave heritage museum once it opens.
Heritage culture tourism is experiencing a boom, as families look for ties to their past and a way to teach their children what isn’t found in classroom textbooks.
“We get third graders in here asking like a thousand questions.” Drain said.
Although some visitors might know the historical facts regarding slavery, actually seeing artifacts from the era makes an association that cannot be achieved just from reading books or hearing a lecture.
“It really opens their eyes,” Drain said. Drain’s own education came from speaking with scholars, reading and researching the topic, but education is indeed the day, black or white. Through learning more about slavery, its facts, its figures, its repercussions, both cultures can grow together, Drain said.
“We don’t teach hate,” he said. “This is history.”