Public archaeology, public history, and race

A lot has changed in public history and archaeology since 1992. And, a lot hasn’t. In 1992, there were very few African American archaeologists. Within that class, even fewer of them were historical archaeologists specializing in African American material culture.

Former slave cabins, Rappahannock County, Va.

Former slave cabins, Rappahannock County, Va.

The early 1990s were a critical time in cultural resource management/public history/historic preservation. Congress had just passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and the world watched as archaeologists excavated the graves where more than 400 Africans were buried in downtown Manhattan. The archaeology was being done in advance of federal building construction and the site is now the African Burial Ground National Monument. At the time, debate swirled about what would become of the site and the people buried there.

Now, nearly a quarter of a century later, not only are there more African American historical archaeologists but there are more Native Americans, Latinos, and Asians specializing in the the field and turning their professional expertise inwards on their own pasts.

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Were MoCo and MD State government officials and the press duped in 2006 about the real “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”?

International media attention — from CNN, NPR, the New York Times, the Times of London, and others — was focused on Montgomery County, Maryland, in the winter of 2005-2006 as the county bought what it thought was “the real Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Five years and nearly $2 million later, the Montgomery County Planning Board is holding a public hearing Thursday October 28 at 7:00 PM to take testimony on proposed Parks Department plans to develop the property formerly known as “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and to formally change the park’s name by removing the “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” label.

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