PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A Philadelphia Museum dedicated to showcasing artifacts related to the Trans-Atlantic slave trade has closed. The owners are looking for a new home for hundreds of objects.
The Lest We Forget Black Holocaust Museum and Traveling Exhibit moved into its former home on Richmond Street 15 years ago. But on September 15, they abruptly closed their doors.
“We’ve been struggling to keep the doors open for years,” says Gwen Ragsdale, co-owner of the museum. “But with rising taxes we were not able to hold onto the building and we were bought out — we were essentially gentrified out of our building.”
According to city records, the property located at 3650 Richmond Street was sold in August. The Ragsdales say they thought they had until the end of the month, but that time was shortened. With no alternate location, the couple was forced to move their vast collection of slavery artifacts into storage.
“I have been collecting slavery items for 50 years,” says Joe Ragsdale, noting he started with three items and now estimates they own about 450.
Their artifacts range from shackles, to abusive collars, to bills of sale and slavery propaganda that they’ve used over the years to educate the public on the brutality of the Atlantic Slave Trade.
“To be able to view and touch the items that were used on enslaved Africans truly bring history alive,” says Gwen, who notes that sharing the story of slavery and its abuses are their passion. “It’s important that people understand what happen during slavery and the impact it continues to have on us.”
The couple also takes some of their artifacts and shares them with schools to ensure students get the opportunity to learn about the use of humans as chattel.
“They need to know,” says Joe, “because once they get education they know they have no option to fail.”
The Ragsdales say lulls in donations over the years meant they had to pay out-of-pocket to keep the museum open. The property, which was built in 1930, needed a number of expensive repairs, including a new roof. Those costs, along with the tax burden, left the couple with little choice but to let the property go.
“One thing I did wrong is I should have put it out there, I could have done more marketing,” says Joe, “but we never got the kind of donations that other museums get.”
When asked whether loaning the items to other museums could be an option, the Ragsdale say they are open-minded, but they prefer to have their own location. The good news is they say community groups do reach out.
“We are hopeful that we’ll find a place,” says Gwen, “we must remember the legacy of slavery lest we forget.
To donate to the non-profit or suggest locations go to www.lwfsm.com, email email@example.com or call 215-305-4321.