MUSEUMS AND EXHIBITIONS, AND TOURS, THAT HONOR AND EDUCATE ABOUT THE BLACK EXPERIENCE IN AMERICA

The National Museum of African American History & Culture, on the day of its opening, September 24, 2016 (Image credit: Monica Morgan/WireImage.)

 

“It was in 1964 when the author James Baldwin reflected on the shortcomings of his education. “When I was going to school,” he said, “I began to be bugged by the teaching of American history because it seemed that that history had been taught without cognizance of my presence.”

Opening paragraph of the January 29, 2016 Time magazine story, “This Is How February Became Black History Month,” by Julian Zorthian

 

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In the U.S., every February since 1976 has been officially designated as Black History Month – a month-long celebration and commemoration of the contributions of blacks to the nation and its culture.

Canada and the United Kingdom also celebrate and commemorate February as Black History Month.

Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950) is the founder of Black History Month.

Woodson, the son of slaves, earned a bachelor’s degrees from Berea College, a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the University of Chicago, and a PhD from Harvard University.  He became established and distinguished as a teacher, author, and historian.

Carter G. Woodson, Founder of Black History Month (Image credit: Biography)

Woodson employed his vocation and profile to fervently advocate for teaching, chronicling, and preserving history of the African diaspora.

In 1926, Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) – which in 1973 was renamed the Association for the Study of African American Life and History  (ASALH) – jointly announced that the second week of February would be Negro History Week.

Carter Woodson and the ASALH were motivated to pick the second week in February because it contained the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and Frederick Douglas (February 14), both events that blacks had revered and honored since the late 1800s.

Starting in the 1940s, in certain areas of the country, expanded to a month was the week that Carter Woodson and the ASALH had designated as one in which there was a special and particular societal focus on the history of blacks in America.

This change and expansion of the event grew fast and strong in the 1960s.

In 1976, on the 50th anniversary of what would become Black History Week, the ASALH transitioned the event to, and established, Black History Month.

That year, President Gerald Ford, as would every succeeding president every year, designated February as Black History Month.

While, of course, it is wholly requisite and demanded of a good and noble society that every day be a day in which black history is acknowledged and learned and honored, Willwork, Inc. Exhibit & Event Services felt it appropriate to feature in and designate a blog post – yes, a blog post in February – to a selection of museums and exhibitions, and tours, that advance the mission and hopes of Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.

The National Museum of African American History & Culture

The National Museum of African American History & Culture (NMAAHC), a Smithsonian museum in Washington D.C., is the “only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture.”

Established through an act of Congress in 2003, the NMAAHC opened its doors on September 24, 2016, and became the 19th Smithsonian museum.

Officiating at the opening ceremony of the museum was President Barack Obama.

Point of Plains slave cabin in “Slavery and Freedom” exhibit in the National Museum of African American History and Culture (Image credit: SEGD)

Sir David Frank Adjaye, a Ghanaian British architect, was the lead designer of the remarkable and awe-inspiring NMAAHC building, which is located on the National Mall.  The building is clad in 3,600 bronze colored panels, has 350,000 square feet of floor space, and 10 stories, five above ground and five below ground.

Exhibited within the museum are approximately 37,000 artifacts, including photos, banners, statues, letters, Bibles, sheet music, audio recordings, clothing, film, musical instruments, digital images, paintings and drawings … and much more.

On exhibit in the museum are shards of stained glass that remained after the September 15, 1963 terrorist bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL that killed four girls: Addie Mae Collins, 14; Carole Denise McNair, 11;  Carole Robertson, 14;

Shards of broken stained glass remaining after the terrorist bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL on September 15, 1963 (Image credit: National Museum of African-American History & Culture)

and Cynthia Diane Wesley, 14.

Displayed are stools from the F.W. Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, NC, where, on February 1, 1960, four black men – Ezell Blair Jr., Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, and David Richmond – sat in the “For Whites Only” section.  This courageous protest launched the “sit-in” movement that spread throughout the South.

A training robe and headgear of Muhammad Ali’s is part of the exhibit dedicated to the great boxer, civil rights leader, and cultural legend.

There is a Carl Lewis exhibit where you can see up close three of the nine Olympic gold medals he won (he also has a silver medal in his trophy case).

Stools from the lunch counter of the F. W. Woolworth department store in Greensboro, North Carolina where four black students conducted the historic “sit in”. (Image credit: National Museum of African American History & Culture)

Carlotta Walls was the youngest of the Little Rock Nine, the heroic nine black students who, in 1957, under the protection of U.S. Army troops, enrolled at previously all-white Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, AK.  Carlotta Walls, like her Little Rock Nine brethren, endured intense bigotry, taunting, and abuse.

Walls graduated from Little Rock Central High School in 1959.  At the National Museum of African American History and Culture on exhibit is a dress that Carlotta Walls wore while attending the high school.

A hallowed and sacred place is the National Museum of African American History & Culture.

Museum of African American History

At the Museum of African American History (MAAH) – which has a campus in Boston and on the island of Nantucket – the focus is on telling the history and story of blacks in Massachusetts, from the colonial period through the 19th Century.

Boston was the heart of the abolitionist movement in America, and Nantucket had a thriving black community in the 1800s, and was also a safe haven for blacks fleeing slavery.

MAAH is comprised of four properties – two in Boston and two on Nantucket.

African American Meeting House in Boston (Image credit: History.com)

In Boston, the MAAH operates the African American Meeting House (1806), the oldest black church building in the U.S., and the Abiel Smith School (1835), the oldest still-standing school building in America constructed to educate black children.

One of the MAAH Nantucket properties is the Florence Higginbotham House, constructed in 1774 by Seneca Boston, a former slave, for the occupation of he and his wife, Thankful Micah, a Wampanoag Native American – and where the couple would raise their two sons:  Freeborn and Absalom, who would achieve renown as a whaling captain.

From the day that Seneca and Thankful took residence of the house, and for the next two centuries, with the exception of one year, the home was owned by and the residence of a black family.  There is no record of any home older in the nation that was built by free blacks for their own occupancy.

The MAAH-owned African Meeting House on Nantucket (circa 1827) is, as described on the museum’s website, as “the only public building still in existence that was constructed and occupied by the island’s African Americans during the nineteenth century.”

The Tuskegee Airmen, and the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first black aviators in the U.S. armed forces.  During World War II, a period of official segregation in the U.S. military, these men signed up from across the nation to serve and defend the republic.

Tuskegee Airmen (image credit: Tuskegee University)

Tuskegee Airmen – whose roles included fighter pilots, ground crew, navigators, medical staff, cooks, and other needed services – trained in Alabama, at Moton Field (now a part of Moton Municipal Airport), and at the Tuskegee Army Airfield (now Sharpe Field), which had been designed by Hilyard Robinson, a black architect and engineer.

Tuskegee Airmen took classroom and academic training at nearby Tuskegee Institute.

Enduring racial discrimination at home and overseas, the 996 pilots and more than 1500 support personnel of the Tuskegee Airmen, performed with honor and high skill and effectiveness.  In World War II, Tuskegee Airmen flew 15,500 combat sorties in the European Theater and were awarded 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses for heroism.

Museum at the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic site; the “Red Tail” Mustang is prominent (Image credit: Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site)

Tuskegee Airmen are often referred to as the “Red Tails”, for the red markings on the Mustang fighter aircraft they flew in combat.

The Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site , located at Moton Field, is a National Park Service property and on the National Register of Historic Places.  At the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, there is a visitor center, and a museum (housed in an airplane hanger) where are exhibited aircraft the Tuskegee Airmen flew and other artifacts and items related to their service.  Also at the museum, there are many audio commentaries, some narrated by Tuskegee Airmen, which visitors can listen to.

Harlem, and Harlem Heritage Tours

Harlem – a neighborhood in the north section of the the New York City borough of Manhattan – is a name that is closely and long identified with the black experience in this nation.  When the Great Migration, the large movement of blacks from the American South to American Midwest and Northeast, commenced around 1910, Harlem was a favored destination.

Harlem became a locus of black culture and business.

During the 1920s and ’30s, an extraordinary florescence of the creativity and production of black artists was centered in Harlem, and was known as the Harlem Renaissance.

The legendary blues and jazz singer Billie Holiday, musician greats, Ben Webster, left, and Johnny Russell, right, in Harlem, 1935 (image credit: JP Jazz Archive, Redferns)

In 1950, the percentage of the Harlem population that was black peaked, at almost 99 percent.  Across the ensuing years, even as Harlem remained widely identified as the capital of black urban America – a designation still firmly in place today – whites and Hispanics moved in to the neighborhood and grew their percentages of the Harlem population.

Today about 40 percent of Harlem residents are black.

An enriching and engaging way to learn first-hand about Harlem and its history – and to participate in and contribute to an economic renaissance ongoing in Harlem – it to take one of the bus or walking tours offered through Harlem Heritage Tours.

You will be engaged and learn a lot about what makes Harlem so special.

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The National Museum of African-American History & Culture, Museum of African-American History, Tuskegee National Air Museum, and Harlem Heritage Tours are all cultural and historic treasures.

A visit to these places, and experiencing the exhibits and events and education they offer, is highly recommended – for it builds an understanding and appreciation for a fundamental and essential component of the greatness of America.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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