Greenfield Village didn't always get it right

DEARBORN, Mich. -- Henry Ford's Greenfield Village is quietly correcting some errors and misrepresentations at the famed repository of Americana, and it's trying to get blacks into the picture as well.

One of the more dramatic examples is the discovery that a white frame house Ford purchased in 1940 and characterized as the home of a white slave owner was actually built andoccupied by a free black farm family named Mattox.


It now will be the centerpiece of a permanent exhibit on African- Americans tnat will open at Greenfield Village in August.

''History is (more or less) bunk' -- that's Henry Ford's famous saying,' said Carrell Cowan-Ricks, an anthropology graduate student at Wayne State University who works as a guide at Greenfield Village.

'He wasn't about to believe the Mattox house was built by anyone but whites.'

Officials trace the new, more research-oriented thrust at Greenfield Village to the appointment of Harold Skramstad Jr. as director in 1981.

Following Skramstad's appointment 'things radically changed,' said Peter Cousins, a longtime curator.

'We have been in the forefront of the museum community in research,' Cousins said.

Another error was Ford's description of a white frame house be acquired in Maryland as the 17th century home of colonial tax collectors.


Greenfield Village now acknowledges the house was probably built in the 19th century as the home of the tobacco-planting Carroll family, which had 74 slaves.

Smaller matters include repainting the 121-year-old Orville and Wilbur Wright house to a color actually in common use at the time it was built.

While several significant changes already have been made, Cousins says much work remains to be done to make the village's exhibits as accurate and informative as possible.

Cousins said the new African-American Family Life and Cultural Center will address slavery and other aspects of black history that have been underemphasized.

Nikki Shakoor, director of the project, wants it to present a black perspective on slavery.

'Most of the material on slavery is done from a European perspective,' she said. 'We'd have a better understanding of slavery if we included the vantage point of the slaves.'

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