Eighty-five-year-old Marge Harlan, a retired psychologist and a school teacher, used $175,000 of her own money to build a Black History library in west-central Missouri’s Sedalia in hopes of improving race relations. Accompanied by a replica of a slave cabin that has caused some controversy.
The library is named after black Missouri journalist Rose Nolen, who died last year, and is located on the site of Nolen’s former home. The library is packed with books, wall displays and other research material. There is also cotton, tobacco and sugar cane growing outside of the library. Harlan, who serves as the local NAACP’s secretary, said she was inspired by President Barack Obama‘s call for a national conversation about race. But generally only a couple people a week visit the three-year-old library. She believed the cabin would help boost the library’s attendance in a historically Black section of Sedalia. A sign on the cabin’s front reads “all who enter make peace with your past and move on,” and a bench in the middle, which Harlan explains is for “people to be able to sit, read and think.”
“I feel the only way to get over something is to go through it. Don’t just push it down and pretend it’s not there,” Harlan told the AP. “I can’t even imagine what it would be like to live in a nation where the government and police didn’t support me and take care of me. It just blows my mind.”
The cabin, she says, “is to promote discussion — for whites to realize the horrors that Blacks went through and for Blacks to be proud of themselves that they made it. Blacks have been the strong ones, the resilient ones. That’s what I want the slave cabin to openly represent. That’s my aim.”
Rhonda Chalfant, the Sedalia-Pettis County NAACP’s president, has disapproved of the cabin, saying that a friend describes it as “building a replica of Auschwitz in a Jewish neighborhood.” She went on to explain that “it’s being viewed negatively because most Blacks don’t want to be reminded of the horrors of slavery,” Chalfant told The Associated Press on Tuesday from Sedalia, where roughly 85 percent of the 21,500 residents are white.
Watch her full interview here.