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Slavery-Era Artifacts Contribute to Culture, Identity

February is African American History Month. KSMU’s Kristian Kriner traveled out to Ash Grove, where one African American priest displays his ancestor’s artifacts from the era of slavery for all to see.

Father Moses Berry pulls a ball and chain out from a locked case.

These are just a few of the items that have been passed down from his ancestors, who were slaves in Missouri in the 1800s.

Berry runs the Ozarks Afro-American Heritage Museum in downtown Ash Grove.

He’s also the founder and priest of the Theotokus Unexpected Joy Orthodox Christian Church.

Various artifacts from the days of slavery are displayed throughout the museum.

“This is one of my favorites. These are ball and chains. They’re called walking ball and chain and they call them walking ball and chains because unlike the big ball and chains that you normally think of that goes around a person’s ankle that makes them completely immobilized. We have these ball and chains to just slow a person down," Berry said.

Berry says the ball and chain would be attached to the slave’s hands and then to a brace around his or her neck.

Other artifacts in Berry’s museum include quilts that were used on the Underground Railroad.

One tan colored quilt with navy triangles dates back to the late 1700s, and it was made by Berry’s great-great grandmother.

Berry says people involved in the Underground Railroad would drape the quilts as a method of showing slaves which route to take on their way to freedom.

“Now, my family always says that they kept these items because they did not want to forget their days in freedom as they move past their days in captivity. So, these are the things we reflect on,” Berry said.

Berry’s museum also has a Civil War jacket, a medallion from a slave trading house, and a replica of a dress that his great-great grandmother wore.

He says African Americans should acknowledge the good and bad things that their ancestors experienced.

“I don’t think we need a Black History Month. I think we need a Black History 12 months, and I think we also need a Native American 12 months, white people 12 months as well as Asian and Pacific Islanders or any one that I may have left out. In order for us to draw attention to the fact that we are apart of creation and that we have a right to be here is something that escapes us,” Berry said.

Berry says he wants the people who visit his museum to know that something good came out of the painful days of slavery.

For KSMU News, I’m Kristian Kriner.