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Descendant Communities in the Interpretation of Slavery at Museums and Historic Sites

“This rubric is an assessment and development tool that measures and builds an organization’s capability and commitment to teach slavery.


In its most fundamental form, a “descendant community” is a group of people whose ancestors were enslaved at a particular site, but it can transcend that limited definition. A descendant community can include those whose ancestors were enslaved not only at a particular site, but also throughout the surrounding region, reflecting the fact that family ties often crossed plantation boundaries. A descendant community can also welcome those who feel connected to the work the institution is doing, whether or not they know of a genealogical connection.


Engaging descendants of enslaved communities forms a critical component of the rubric. Empowering descendant voices challenges the public to consider their points of view, which until very recently have been marginalized from the dominant historical narratives offered in classrooms, textbooks, museums, and historic sites. Beyond simply gaining historical information, institutions working respectfully with descendants can forge connections critical to their work. We hope that this rubric is viewed and utilized as a foundation upon which to construct richer, more diverse narratives that bring people to better understand the lived experience of slavery and its legacy, as well as to highlight examples of perseverance that carry descendants’ legacies into the future. We hope it will continue to be revised as it is used and evaluated.”