The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C, has many artifacts connected to slavery. For one woman, visiting the museum this week was a literal homecoming.
Isabell Meggett Lucas was born and raised in a wooden house in coastal South Carolina. Slaves lived in that house during the 1800s.
The Smithsonian bought the structure and moved it plank by plank to the new African-American museum where it is now on display.
NPR's Ari Shapiro spoke with Meggett Lucas, who is now in her 80s, and her sister-in-law, Emily Meggett, about what it was like to revisit Meggett Lucas' childhood home. Eleven people lived in the wooden two-bedroom house that had no running water, no electricity and a wood-powered stove.
Meggett Lucas says that growing up they didn't know their house was a slave cabin.
"I guess it was a rough time for [the slaves] because it was rough for us, too," Meggett Lucas says. " 'Cause my mother had to work ... they had nothing to do but farm work, no education. ... I don't think that [my parents] ever thought that they lived in a slave cabin. I don't think that. I think that that was they home, and they felt comfortable there, and they felt happy there."
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The National Museum of African-American History and Culture here in Washington has many artifacts connected to slavery. For one woman, visiting the museum this week was a literal homecoming. Isabell Meggett Lucas was born and raised in a wooden house in coastal South Carolina. Slaves lived in that house during the 1800s.
The Smithsonian bought the structure and moved it plank by plank to the new African-American Museum where it's now on display. Isabell Meggett Lucas is now in her 80s, and she joins us along with her sister-in-law, Emily Meggett. Thanks to you both for joining us.
ISABELL MEGGETT LUCAS: Thank you.
EMILY MEGGETT: Thank you.
SHAPIRO: Will you give me a little tour of the house? Imagine when your family was living there. If I walked in on a Saturday, what would I see? How big was it? How many people lived there? What was going on?
MEGGETT LUCAS: It was like four rooms.
MEGGETT LUCAS: It wasn't but two bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen. We had wood stove, fireplace.
MEGGETT: No electric lights.
MEGGETT LUCAS: No electric, no plumbing or nothing, no dog (ph) house. It didn't have no window pane. It was just shutters to the house. Wash - got to wash in the washing tub. You had to wash the clothes on the washing board, put it in the boiler, let it boil then take the stick and take it out the boiler, put it in the rinsing water, rinse that and put it on the line.
SHAPIRO: Wow, that's a lot of work.
MEGGETT: That's a lot of work.
MEGGETT LUCAS: Yes. Then had to take the water, had a pump.
SHAPIRO: Got to carry the water from the pump?
MEGGETT LUCAS: Yes. There were four house, and the water - the pump is set between the four house.
SHAPIRO: How many people lived in that one house?
MEGGETT LUCAS: It's 11. And at night it's so hot. And my mother then sit on the porch. And we kids would play in the yard. And sometime it'd be moonshine, sometime it'd be dark. The mosquitos so bad and - that we'd get a tire and put a little rag in them and make smoke. We kids, we'd run through the smoke, playing back and forth.
SHAPIRO: You'd create smoke to get rid of the mosquitoes, sort of an old-fashioned bug repellent?
MEGGETT LUCAS: Yeah. Yes. No spray like today.
SHAPIRO: I know that when you lived in this house, you were unaware of its connection to slavery. Since you visited the museum, what have you learned about the experience of people who lived in this house before you?
MEGGETT LUCAS: I guess a rough time for them because it was rough for us, too. 'Cause my mother had to work. They had no nothing to do but farm work, no education. And I felt so bad for my mother when I grew up and see how she had to work and struggle to raise us - pregnant, had to go in the fields and work. And field work is hard. It's very hard.
But I give my mother and father thanks in the grave for her to bring us up and raise us. I don't think they ever thought that they lived in a slave cabin. I don't think that. I think that they - that was their home. And they felt comfortable there. And they felt happy there.
SHAPIRO: And so what was it like for you this week walking into the Smithsonian African-American History and Culture Museum and seeing your childhood home there on display?
MEGGETT LUCAS: It make me happy. And I'm pleased too, so.
SHAPIRO: Did people at the museum treat you like a celebrity?
MEGGETT LUCAS: We was like queen (laughter).
SHAPIRO: Queen for a day?
MEGGETT LUCAS: We was the queen of Edisto.
SHAPIRO: Well, it's really been a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much for taking the time.
MEGGETT LUCAS: Same here.
SHAPIRO: That was Isabell Meggett Lucas and Emily Meggett speaking about Isabell's childhood home which is now in the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.