The Press and Standard
by: Don McLoud, Managing Editor
Friday, February 25, 2005
Walterboro museum strives to tell whole story of slavery.
Behind a historic white house on Carn Street lie the relics of a past that many people would prefer to forget.
But Danny Drain, the founder of the Slave Relics Museum, has set upon a mission to tell the whole story of slavery-not only the hardships but the perseverance of a people facing horrendous cruelty.
“My job here is to educate the public on how the enslaved African persevered and survived,” he says. “I tell young people, ‘If we can go through this and survive, we can do anything.'”
After crossing the threshold and taking a glance to the left, the visitor immediately sees a glass display case that exemplifies that hardship and perseverance.
The first artifact in the case is a worn, handmade fiddle that a slave family used for entertainment back in the 1840s.
Beside it is a black handmade doll that was sewn from old quilt cloth.
And beside it, is a whip.
The whip, however, was not the property of a plantation owner. The carved handle shows that it was actually madly by an African, an African who would raid villages to sell slaves to Europeans.
“A lot of Africans sold Africans,” said Drain, who is a descendant of slaves. “Here, we try to tell the complete story.”
The Africans would barter with the Europeans. One of the favorite trade items were weapons. Drain points to a back wall where a musket dating back to the 1720s hangs. The weapon has African carvings.
After the Africans were sold they were loaded onto ships. Drain has a replica of a slave ship and a document that shows how the slaves were packed into the ships like sardines. The trip would take three months. Many of them died along the way.
Below the slave-ship display is an elaborate carving of an African man. Below the man are carvings to represent all of his descendants. Drain says the carving, which was made whenever an African man died, gives a visual impact of slavery-how it destroyed African families.
Once the Africans arrived in America, they were branded and shackled and sold. Some ended up on plantations around Charleston and Savannah.
Drain has various artifacts from plantations, such as an animal collar that slaves who were being punished had to wear. The collar would cause gangrene, bringing on a slow death, he said.
Drain also has a display depicting some of the leaders of the abolitionist movement: Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. Tubman led the Underground Railroad that helped bring many slaves to freedom.
Drain is planning an exhibit on the abolitionists and the railroad.
In the back of the museum Drain has set up a small room to look like a typical slave’s quarters. There is a handmade wooden bed and a fireplace with a pot that would have been used for cooking. The bed was bought from the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan.
The room also contains a cradle and chair that were built with wood that was pieced together with slots-no nails were used.
All of their furniture was made by hand, and materials included anything they could find, like bamboo and sugar cane.
Drain said slave quarters would hold as many as 12 people, with children sleeping under the bed.
Drain’s artifacts have received national attention. The Smithsonian Institute has been down to look at his items and has included some of them in its book “Captive Passage.”
“They couldn’t believe there were such items in private hands,” he said.
In fact, his may be the only slave relic museum in the country.
And he has plans to expand. He owns land in the back of the museum where he wants to put three slave cabins and provide living-history demonstrations. The exhibit would give people a feel for what life was like for slaves.
“this is going to be so powerful,” he says of the future exhibit. He hopes to have it in place by the end of this year.
The museum is also linked with the International African-American Museum, which is being built in Charleston. Visitors to the Charleston museum would be directed to Walterboro to see his artifacts.
Drain also likes to take young people through his museum. Fourth-graders in Colleton County and from nearby areas visit each year.
“A lot of students don’t understand the history,” he says. “There is so much to be learned. African culture started way before slavery. But the history has been tainted over the years due to racism.”
Drain’s goal is to make the museum a place for all people to come to get a better understanding of history.
“We try to show the bad and the good,” he says. “It’s for all Americans. It’s part of American history.”
For some, the experience can be an emotional one. He said one woman could not complete the tour because it was so emotional. Often, people cry.
“Some say they have had revelations,” he said. “Everybody has their own personal feelings.”
Drain says he has always had an interest in his culture, and over the years he has collected more than 2,000 artifacts. Most of those artifacts, he says, are from slave descendants.
He has bought them at various auctions over the years, and some have been donated by families who wanted to ensure they were preserved. Many researchers have also come to see his relics.
He also has items on loan to museums around the country and performs traveling exhibits.
Drain is relatively new to Walterboro. Though his family was from here, he grew up in New York.
He opened the museum in his home on Carn Street about three years ago. He works for the state Department of Transportation, but keeps the museum open each week.
Drain opened the museum, because he believes people should get the full story about slavery and those who went through it.
“It’s very important,” he says, “because for so long, the history has not been taught”.