What Should I Do With My Portrait of a Slaveholding Ancestor?

Do I keep it or sell it?

My family's ancestors, the Bibbs, were key figures in the establishment of Alabama. My great-uncle was its territorial governor, appointed by James Monroe, and was elected to the governorship when Alabama entered the union. These ancestors had plantations and owned slaves.

I possess a large, elegant portrait of this slaveholding governor, William Wyatt Bibb (1781-1820). This portrait held a place of honor in my childhood home and hangs over the mantel in my living room. I even named one of my sons Wyatt in the governor's honor. Formerly, I did not give much thought to the Bibb family's role in the institution of slavery. Now I have, and I have misgivings about displaying a portrait of a problematic ancestor.


I had the painting appraised years ago and was told that as an unauthenticated portrait it was worth about $5,000, and if it could be authenticated, it would be worth about $50,000. If I got the portrait authenticated, I could sell it and donate the money to an organization focused on reparations. This would assuage my conscience. On the other hand, this portrait has been in the family for about 200 years, and I am the steward of it. If I decide to keep it, how might we display it so as not to cause offense?

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