The Acacia Collection Building “Bridge of Understanding”

The Acacia Collection with the venerable Judith Wraggs Chase, Louise Alston Graves Charleston Old Slave Mart Museum and Library collectively referred to as the “Greater Acacia Collection” serves uniquely and singularly as the material culture foundation of the African-American experience in the western world.

The Greater Acacia Collection also presents the “true history” of the struggles, challenges and accomplishments of Americans of African descent in establishing the authentic bedrock to construct a “Bridge of Understanding” by and between the continents of Mother Africa, Europe, America and all of mankind.

Contemporary civilizations can learn much from the unique experience of African-Americans whose origins began in slavery in Africa ….were transported in bondage to enrich European commerce and sold as titled property in the New World. These are but the opening chapters in the amazing journey of survival, emancipation, liberation, civil rights and the continued struggle for equality of African-Americans.

It is only through knowledge, enlightenment and recognition that an honest and open “Bridge of Understanding” can change the world of hatred, prejudices and mistrust.

The Greater Acacia Collection presents abundant evidence through artifacts, memorabilia, library (i.e. books, documents, maps, photographs, slides, flat work, realia and ephemera) and material culture providence…. to build a real “Bridge of Understanding”.

Mrs. Judith Wraggs Chase in West Africa

Mrs. Judith Wraggs Chase in West Africa

In the Beginning:

Historical curiosity in the arts, crafts, skills and artisan talents of African-Americans dates to the late 1930’s when Miriam B. Wilson, the founder of the Old Slave Mart Museum in Charleston, South Carolina began the curatorial task of preserving, saving and collecting many Afro-American artifacts and related historical information threatened to be lost to posterity and extinction. (see full “Greater Acacia Collection” Historical Journey) In the ensuing and post World War II years, the original vision of Ms. Wilson was pursued by the passion, sensitivity and intellectual investment of the Old Slave Mart Museum Director, Mrs. Louise Alston Graves, and further into the deep African origins of Afro-American art through the indomitable talents of educator, Mrs. Judith Wraggs Chase.

Funeral Box

Bakuba funerary box about 10 inches long. Made in the shape of a Bakuba coffin and embroidered with beads and cowries, it was used as a receptiacle for gifts to the family of the deceased. Opening on side not shown. (Collection Old Slave Mart Museum. Photo, Jeanette L. Wragg)

If ever there was an early architect in designing a “Bridge of Understanding” between Africa and the Africa-American experience it was museum curator, artist, lecturer and teacher, Judith Wraggs Chase. For better appreciation of the “Value Of Understanding”, consider Mrs. Chase as white, without any color barrier, representing the “black” community of Charleston at the First World Festival of Negro Arts at Dakar, Senegal in 1966. Better yet, read her seminal titled work, “Afro-American Art and Craft”, published in 1971 for a clarion view of a true pioneer in understanding. At the core of historical truth is the understanding that some one must serve as the “honest” custodian of history. Starting with Miriam B. Wilson, African Americana has four strong pillars in the critical preservation of African American material culture….without whom doubtless, no “Bridge of Understanding” could be constructed.

The Chase Treasure Chest:
The Judith Wraggs Chase, Louise Alston Graves Old Slave Mart Museum and Library in Charleston, South Carolina is a veritable “treasure chest” of artifacts, arts, crafts, heirlooms, antiquities, photographs, documents, realia, ephemera and material culture that speaks to the origins, travels and history of Americans of African descent. Only a very small portion of the estimable thousands of artifacts in the collection and library were ever on display in the Old Slave Mart Museum, America’s oldest slavery museum, located in historic Charleston between the Ashley and Cooper Rivers in South Carolina. However, a study of the archives and catalogues within the Chase treasury of arts, artifacts and antiquities is a passport to “material” understanding about the links from Africa and America……and the lessons learned there from.

Mammy Doll

Dolls made for white children by a slave named Emmaline. Boy doll (1850) is hand-knitted. “Mammy” doll (1882) is dressed partly in buttons and materials from Emmaline’s clothes. (Collection Old Slave Mart Museum.)

Enter Acacia Collection:
Overlapping the latter years of the Chase treasure, Smithsonian trained African-American scholar Carroll Greene was in search of a few family heirlooms only to discover their passing to extinction. Fear that history would not preserve African-American culture as it so meticulously would European and western cultures, Carroll Greene commenced the focused task of creating a “purpose built” collection of African-Americana to span the total history of the African American experience of over 350 years (see full “Greater Acacia Collection” Historical Journey) The “purpose” of “building” The Acacia Collection was direct and simple… education to articulate the true history of African-Americans in order to build a “Bridge of Understanding”. The assimilation of The Acacia Collection with the historic Judith Wraggs Chase, Louise Alston Graves Charleston Old Slave Mart Collection to establish the Greater Acacia Collection is the single most formidable anchor to the world’s oldest, largest, and most comprehensive “Bridge of Understanding” in the service of educating mankind about the Africa-American experience.

Know The Truth and The Truth Will Set You Free:
Knowledge about just one item in The Acacia Collection can completely change the stereotypes and misbeliefs about the African-American experience. Whether a hand carved funeral vase, a matchstick purse, a patchwork quilt or a child’s African hut savings bank…..artifacts tell the true history to create new enlightenment that builds better understanding. This knowledge of true history and understanding is a means to set us free from all past misunderstanding.

Thomas Day Furniture

Acacia Collection Furniture by Thomas Day as exhibited at the Telfair Musium of Art, Savannah, GA. 1996-97

Imagine an exhibition of select Acacia Collection artifacts in and around Africa to introduce the shared, yet separate journeys to liberation.

Imagine a display of Acacia Collection material culture in European capitals where the colonial slave trade built their wealth, power and influence… on the back of locks and chains.

Imagine traveling exhibits of select Acacia antiquities from university campus to university campuses across America to demonstrate the unique ingenuity of Americans of African descent who survived the most brutal of human conditions only to remain resilient contributors to the elevated American way of life.

This is a real “Bridge of Understanding”.