Model Slave Cabin
Among the interstingly novel artifacts in the National Civil Rights Museum’s collection is a model slave cabin donated to the museum along with figurines, furniture and accessories. It was fashioned by the well-regarded dollhouse enthusiast Jacqueline Andrews of Ashland, Virginia. In 1975, Barbara Grey commissioned Ms. Andrew to create these dolls and the house. It was purchased by the Weaver family in 2004 who then donated it to the museum.
The miniature slave cabin is made of wood, contains two rooms and a loft, and is one and a half stories high. It is also elevated on wooden blocks in order to appear to have a crawl space, which was a common architectural feature of slave dwellings. Slave cabins were most often made of logs, making them easy to build and economical for plantation owners who were looking for cheap housing options. A cabin’s loft served as a storage or sleeping space. Cabins had fireplaces for heating and cooking, but otherwise were minimally furnished.
Depending on the wealth of the plantation owner and the status of the slave within a plantation, cabins were varied in terms of amenities and level of comfort. Typically, a slave cabin such as this would be situated some distance from the plantation owner’s house. It was not uncommon for a single cabin to house multiple families if needed.
Andrew’s model cabin was meant to depict the life of slaves on a typical nineteenth-century cotton plantation. Slaves living in these sorts of cabins labored in the fields and spent the bulk of the harvest season picking the daily quota of cotton the overseer demanded. Often this required working in the hot sun over 12 hours a day.
Andrews also created a household scene within the model dollhouse. She added furniture and household goods that a family might use to create some sense of a comfortable home. One of the most creative elements of the dollhouse are the dolls themselves. Andrews included a total of ten nut-head dolls made in the style of black Americana folk art tradition. Their heads are made of walnuts and their faces, while simplistic, are hand painted. Their bodies are made using a variety of materials, wood, wire, corn husks, and in some cases, stiff cardboard. Each doll is unique. Andrews made these dolls to depict black life and the dignity of black people living in this time period.
This model slave cabin was donated to the museum by Kimberly and Gregory Weaver in honor of their parents Christina and Isaiah Weaver. The museum had solicited this donation as part of its collection plan for its 2014 renovation of the Lorraine Building.
I had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Christina Weaver when she visited Memphis earlier this year. She was accompanied by a group of friends, and they all came into the collections climate-controlled vault to look at the model slave cabin. In my conversations with Christina Weaver, I learned about her marriage to her late husband, Ike, and their courtship and romance. Christina came to the United States from England in the 1960s, and she and Ike were coworkers at a local hospital. They married after the passing of the landmark federal case Loving vs Virginia in 1967, which overturned the ban on interracial marriages.
This is the first time that the model slave cabin has been publicly displayed. We thank the Weaver family for donating this unique artifact to our museum. If you have an item that you would like to offer the National Civil Rights Museum as we grow our collection, please contact me, Raka Nandi at firstname.lastname@example.org.