Slavery Exhibit on SMU’s Oakland Campus

By: Debra Holtz

In honor of Black History Month, Samuel Merritt University (SMU) is hosting a history exhibit about the daily lives of enslaved people and those who benefitted from slavery during the colonial era.

The exhibit — Fire and Freedom: Food and Enslavement in Early America — will be on view in the atrium of the Health Education Center on SMU’s Oakland campus until March 2. It was developed and produced by the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health. 

Hai-Thom Sota, director of the John A. Graziano Memorial Library, said she welcomes the opportunity to add to the SMU conversation about diversity and African-American history by booking relevant traveling exhibits.

“In addition to providing books and journals, I think it’s important for the library to build and contribute to the campus community and this is one way of doing so,” she said.

The display of six panels chronicles life at Mount Vernon, the Virginia plantation owned by George Washington during the 18th century, demonstrating how America’s first president relied on the skills and labor of slaves for much of his wealth. It focuses on the hard work of slaves to grow food and prepare meals under sometimes chaotic and dangerous conditions.

“Too often we look back to the past as this nostalgic perfect time, but I think it’s important to unpack history and these exhibits do it in a non-threatening manner,”  said Sota.

Past exhibits hosted by the SMU library have included:

·     Confronting Violence: Improving Women’s Lives

·     Opening Doors: Contemporary African American Academic Surgeons

·     Binding Wounds, and Pushing Boundaries: African Americans in Civil War Medicine

Next month, the library will be hosting Pictures of Nursing: The Zwerdling Postcard CollectionPhysician Assistants: Collaboration and Care will be on display next year.



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