Woman who lived in former slave cabin visits Smithsonian Emily Meggett, left, and Isabell Meggett Lucas sit together at the National Museum of African American History in Washington, Tuesday, April 11, 2017, in front of a slave cabin on display. Lucas was born in the two-room wood cabin that dates to the 1850's. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Woman who lived in former slave cabin visits Smithsonian
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It's been years since Isabell Meggett Lucas has been inside the tiny house she was born in, a former slave cabin where her ancestors sought refuge from the hot South Carolina sun.
 
But the 86-year-old woman never envisioned that when she finally returned, the wooden two-room house would be viewed by millions of people inside the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture as an example of what home life was like for slaves in the South.
 
Visiting the new museum in Washington, open for a little over six months now, gave Lucas and her family a chance to share with museum curators a glimpse of how descendants of African slaves lived in the post-Civil War and Jim Crow South. It gives a sense of their joys and pains and how the slaves survived a hardscrabble life without electricity or other modern comforts.
 
"It's my home. We all lived there together and we were happy," said Lucas, speaking softly as she stood outside the weatherboard cabin used during slavery at Point of Pines Plantation on Edisto Island, South Carolina.
 
Smithsonian officials scoured the countryside looking for representations of slave cabins for years before choosing the Meggett family cabin on the coast of South Carolina, curator Nancy Bercaw said.
 
Lucas, her sister-in-law Emily Meggett and their family viewed the cabin at the museum. It was rebuilt as part of the "Slavery and Freedom" exhibition, almost exactly as it was when the last occupant lived there in 1981. It is believed to be one of the oldest preserved slave cabins in the United States. Although the exact age of the cabin is not known, it sat on the Point of Pines Plantation from 1851 until it was moved plank by plank to the museum.
 
But Lucas, who lived there from birth until age 19, remembered something about the cabin that isn't in the exhibit.
 
"It had a big long porch on the outside," she said. "My momma would sit on that porch. The cool wind would be getting ready to blow off the rivers and such. The wind would blow and we'd sit on the porch...when we would get tired, everyone would lay on that porch under blankets and quilts and go to sleep."
 
That's the importance of having access to the people who lived in the house. This is because the porch was gone by the time the Smithsonian officials first saw the cabin, Bercaw said. People often think of history to be just about objects and things, when there's so much more they can learn, she said.
 
"They can give us such insight to what life was like on Edisto Island," Bercaw said. "Objects hold meaning within them, and as far as we're concerned, that meaning comes from the family" that lived there.
 
The museum is still collecting information about the cabin, including the oral history of the Meggett family, recorded during their trip to Washington.
 
For example, the 84-year-old Meggett said she remembered coming over before she married Lucas's brother, and remembered Sunday afternoon games of hopscotch, jump rope and baseball in the nearby grass, where a base would be an old brick, and the children could run free through the grass and fields.
 
But slowly, she said, people moved away and the cabin eventually was abandoned. Meggett said she would occasionally visit, however, and her last visit was only a month or two before they moved the cabin out of South Carolina. "There were five deer standing up there in the cabin," she said. "When they saw us, they jumped and ran. We stopped and watched them, and then we went on down to the landing and came back. Then I heard all of a sudden they were going to move the cabin, and when I got back, it was already gone."
 
People should know how they had to live in the past, Lucas said. "We had to work so hard," she said. "I hated it. I hated all farmwork, but I didn't have a choice."
 
But there were good times as well, and wonderful food, she said. "We ate grits and rice and cornbread, biscuits. When I got big enough I had to cook...one thing I learned was how to fix biscuits. We had a fireplace. You see the fireplace here, they would build a fire in the fireplace and they would cook biscuits," Lucas said.
 
The matriarch said she tries to tell her younger relatives about what life was like back then, to share their family's history. Having the cabin in the museum will help people learn about what life was like in the past, she said. "People can look at that house and the pictures around it and know that everything didn't come easy back then," she said.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why did museum officials pick this cabin?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (11)
  • johannaw-cel
    4/24/2017 - 10:10 a.m.

    Isabell Meggett Lucas' home is viewed by millions of people in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture as an example of what life was like for slaves in the South. She lived in a wooden two-room house, a former slave cabin. Lucas is now 86 years old and wouldn't have ever thought that her tiny house will be viewed by millions of people some day. This gave Lucas and her family a chance to share their experiences of how descendants of African slaves lived in the post-Civil War and Jim Crow South. It gives the visitors a sense of their joys and pains and shows them how the slaves survived a life without electricity or other modern comforts. In my opinion this is a really great idea because it shows people how hard life was and how the people found joy besides all their problems and trouble.

  • monicas-ste
    4/25/2017 - 02:08 p.m.

    This is really cool. It must have been crazy to visit. It is very historical.

  • piersonw-cel
    5/03/2017 - 10:27 a.m.

    It was rebuilt as part of the "Slavery and Freedom" exhibition, almost exactly as it was when the last occupant lived there in 1981. It is believed to be one of the oldest preserved slave cabins in the United States. Although the exact age of the cabin is not known, it sat on the Point of Pines Plantation from 1851 until it was moved plank by plank to the museum.

  • pilarj-cel
    5/03/2017 - 11:27 a.m.

    This cabin gives a clear image of how slaves in the South lived. The cabin only had two rooms and Isabell Meggett Lucas was one of a few children that lived in that home. She lived there from the time she was born to the age of 19. So much life has been in that cabin.

  • noahr-ste
    5/04/2017 - 01:16 p.m.

    It mustve been tough to visit the place where she had born. It takes alot of courage to visit a place that had a lot of bad memories.

  • noahr-ste
    5/05/2017 - 01:06 p.m.

    This is amazing to see that people still go and care about history like this. It's crazy to see how much stuff we save and keep in good shape for people to view at museums.

  • kaileew-ste
    5/05/2017 - 01:27 p.m.

    Isabell Lucas has visited her childhood home. This used to be a slave cabin. It's crazy to think that slavery was so recently and there are still slaves living today.

  • nathanm14-ste
    5/05/2017 - 01:51 p.m.

    This specific cabin was chosen because it is believed to be one of the oldest, still standing cabins left from the period. I mean it's over a decade older than the abolition of slavery. And to grow up in a house, thinking your entire life "this is just my plain old crappy house" to see it be viewed and appreciated by millions. That must be a strange feeling to deal with.

  • veruanikkan-cel
    8/11/2017 - 12:19 p.m.

    I think that the museum officials picked that cabin because it embodied post civil-war African American life and how slaves in the south lived after the war. Though now free African Americans still couldn't afford education to have the finer things in life. So there's a lot of wonder over the topic of how their day to day lives went. So the Megget family's cabin though not in perfect condition was still standing and capable of being used. That is why I feel they chose the Meggett family's cabin.

  • ionicaj-cel
    8/11/2017 - 12:26 p.m.

    I really love this article. I think that this is really important for people to see how slaves lived back then. Their lifestyle and the things that they went through back then was unbelievable, and I'm glad that there are still a great remembrance of their life.

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