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In Search of Slave Clothes: A Museum Director’s Hunt for a Painful Symbol

by J. Freedom du Lac

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“The fantasy find for historian Lonnie G. Bunch III includes a tattered pair of pantaloons made of that old “Negro cloth” and a coarse linen shirt that all but disintegrated on the back of its enslaved owner. Maybe a thrashed pair of brogans, too, worn around the plantation until the soles fell off.

“Slave clothing,” Bunch said, almost wistfully, of the most elusive item on his historical wish list. “Still can’t find any.”

Bunch, the founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, is tantalized by the possibility that somewhere — in an attic or basement — somebody has work clothing once worn by a black slave.”

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