This video is sponsored by a partnership with the Illinois Holocaust Museum. Produced by The TRiiBE. Shot and edited by Jenny Shi

The Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie is all about taking history to heart while taking a stand for humanity.

“Purchased Lives,” a touring  exhibit about the American slave trade, is an example of the types of deep conversations the museum strives to curate around the history of systemic oppression in the United States.

“We use our special exhibitions to go deeper into aspects of the Holocaust, but also to go broader into other areas of human rights,” says Susan Abrams, the chief executive officer of the Illinois Holocaust Museum.

Originally curated by The Historic New Orleans Collection, “Purchased Lives: The American Slave Trade from 1808 to 1865” showcases more than 75 original artifacts, slave narratives and oral histories. 

As visitors walk through the exhibit, they engage directly with historical records of the more than 70,000 slaves shipped to New Orleans. Of those records is a collection of newspaper ads called “Lost Friends.”

“We see these ads appearing in newspapers across the country,” Arielle Weininger, the museum’s chief curator of Collections and Exhibits. “These are people looking for their loved ones that were separated during slavery.”

Sale of enslaved people at the St. Louis Hotel in New Orleans. Engraving by William Henry Brooke (1842) courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection

An important takeaway from the exhibit is the power of storytelling, and its impact on the way we view the world around us. The domestic slave trade is deeply embedded in the fabric of the American economy – from the invention of the mass production of clothes to our current system of policing. 

Because of this, curators hope visitors leave the “Purchased Lives” exhibit with a better understanding of slavery as American history instead of solely Black history.

“This is not only the history of the deep South, or the South in general,” says Kelley Szany, vice president of Education and Exhibitions at the museum. “It really is about the United States, the North, and how it affected the entire country.”

Saturdays at the Museum will be free during Black History Month, February 16 and February 23, thanks to support from Bank of America.  

Docent led tours of the exhibition on FREE days
Saturday, February 16 – 11:00 am and 5:00 pm
Saturday, February 23 – 11:00 am and 5:00 pm

Click here to purchase tickets.