An ugly war has broken out between a popular New York City museum and a former employee who accused it of dying in order to “wake up” by adding the story of a Black man to the exhibits. Its exhibitions reflect an ongoing conservative trend in cultural institutions around the country.
The Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side has become the latest target of a so-called anti-wake brigade after former employees claimed that introducing the Black Man’s story into exhibits and tours the museum would be like erasing existing stories of European immigrants. Museum directors told The Daily Beast that was nonsense.
“It has always been part of our mission to tell complex stories, and it has always been part of our mission to extend the stories we tell while preserving the we had,” Tenement Museum president Annie Polland told The Daily Beast.
In an essay published Sunday for Spectator World and reprint in New York Post, Peter Van Buren alleges that the museum, which offers historical stories about the residents living in an overcrowded dormitory building on Orchard Road, constructed a “big lie” by removing the sentence stories of some immigrants to appease audiences and tourists who want more variety.
Van Buren says he joined the museum for about a year in 2016 as an educator, the museum’s version of a tour guide. He stated that the mission of the organization changed after Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election. From that point on, Van Buren insists, the people in charge and the director focused on fighting fascism. inside the museum. Assessing the new direction for critical race theory, Van Buren writes that “the narratives have been rewritten.”
Van Buren writes: “This awakening, which caused me to give up, is now heading to a new low in a desperate move to draw a black family into the mix. “For the first time the museum plans to not only tell the story of a family that has never lived there but is not even an immigrant. They were born in New Jersey.”
“In keeping with this change,” he continued, “the museum will remove the current Irish family tour instead of a mixed-race to emphasize the suffering of black people and not emphasize the actual experience of discrimination imposed on Irish by ‘whites’ New Yorkers. ”
After Van Buren’s essay was released, conservative backlash erupted on social media. Many felt the inclusion of a Black man was inconsistent with historical justice. They believed that adding a Black family meant that a white family would have to be removed.
“The Tenement Museum was an unforgettable part of a trip to New York a few years ago,” says one Twitter user posted. “But now it is being sacrificed to the gods of awakening, because the Irish and the Jews it records are out of fashion.”
“Wake up ??? Call it a lie! ” someone else wrote.
“You can imagine an impoverished Irish family surviving in the face of attacks from protesters, hoping for a better future. Only to have your story rewritten as something untrue,” someone else posted.
NS Tenement Museum, launched in 1988, has traditionally focused on Irish, German, Italian, and Eastern European immigrants who tried to adapt to American life in the 19th and 20th centuries. It details it. the harsh living and working conditions during the immigration wave of the 1800s-1900s, as well as the various social and political prejudices they suffered based on gender, race, ethnicity and class.
In 2017, the museum opened another location on Orchard Street, which focuses on the experience of Latino and Chinese families in the area from the 1950s to 1980s. Along with recreated apartments At both locations, the museum also runs local walking tours so visitors can see what life was like in the early days in the minority areas of Lower Manhattan.
One of the rooms at the museum’s original location was dedicated to Joseph Moore, an Irish immigrant who worked as a waiter in the 19th century. The room was opened in 2008 and visitors can look through the 1869 city directory showing his address and occupation. At that time, museum curators discovered that another Joseph Moore lived in the area during the same period and also worked as a waiter. However, he is black. So the museum delved into his history and included information about the second Joseph Moore on walking tours.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Polland and the museum’s senior director of programming and interpretation, Kathryn Lloyd, said a city directory is provided during tours and visitors can ask questions. Black Joseph Moore’s life versus the Irish Joseph Moore.
“Both are waiters, living less than a mile apart in Lower Manhattan. We found this to be a really needed opportunity for the museum to see how the stories of black New Yorkers and Irish people really came together in the 1860s,” said Lloyd.
In June of this year, museum directors proposed creating a room dedicated to Black Joseph Moore in its original location. The curators have no plans to delete any existing material, including the story of Irishman Joseph Moore. Instead, they say they are just supplementing. However, Van Buren claims in his essay that the museum is “discarding” its Irish history.
Speaking to The Daily Beast, Van Buren, who previously worked for the US State Department, did not deny that claim and suggested that the inclusion of Black Joseph Moore somehow tarnished the organization’s mission. .
“I fear their motives are not purely historical and are geared toward addressing the political needs of 2021,” he said.
He compared his year at the Tenement Museum to a historical spiritual experience.
“For me, the Tenement Museum has always been a gem, something very special,” he said. “Putting the story on some other family that was neither immigrants nor living in the building seems to contradict something they did very well.”
But Polland countered the Tenement Museum showing that “history is complicated.”
“To be able to tell the stories of Black New Yorkers and Irish New Yorkers, which are often told as one of competition and with a violent backdrop — think about Draft Riots of 1863—We also had the opportunity to tell the history of living together, apartment houses together, households living together, having children together. This is also a real piece of New York history that hasn’t been told much,” she said. “Interesting.”
Museum research shows that Black Joseph Moore left New Jersey for New York in 1857. At the time, there were areas in New Jersey where slavery was still legal. So Moore left a rural, enslaved environment for a state where slavery had been abolished. Lloyd said that although he is not a country-to-country immigrant, he is entering a new society with different social norms from what he is used to. belong.
“He may have considered questions about where he might be safe, where he might have a chance, questions that European immigrants might also be considering,” Lloyd said. .
“I think it’s an example of modernism where you’re really trying to interpret a historical event through the lens of 2021.”
But Van Buren disagreed.
“If you want to make the argument that moving from New Jersey to New York counts as immigration, it’s a stretch,” he said. “I understand what they’re trying to do, but I think it’s an example of modernism where you’re really, really trying to interpret a historical event through the lens of 2021.
“The immigrant experience involves completely leaving everything you’ve ever known, desperate enough to leave everything you’ve ever known… and fighting to escape the status you were given when you crossed it. that barrier at Ellis Island. I can’t see anyone in history claiming that was the experience of someone moving from New Jersey to Lower Manhattan. ”
Polland said the museum will be “clear” in explaining that Black Joseph Moore and his family do not live in the Orchard Street building, but that the building will be used as a visual representation of his life. possible at that time.
“From the very beginning, the museum set the goal — not just to have a compound filled with Jewish stories, or just Irish stories, or just Italian stories, or just German stories — but as the museum grows, continues to add,” explains Polland.
“In adding the Blacks story, we continue the momentum that was established from the beginning to tell the stories of different groups of people and how they share the city with each other.”
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