During my second visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, I was able complete the entire experience without cutting corners to appease kids who didn’t have the dexterity to participate in the time sensitive voyage. The visit was just that…an experience that lent itself to anger, confusion, disdain, love, pride, resilience, happiness, and any other emotion you can think of. Mentally, one must be prepared for the ups and downs associated with the visit. While reviewing the section specific to the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, it made me wonder what type of people were birthed into this world to believe any of these transactions were “okay.”
The merciless ideology of selling and capturing person’s whose DNA subsisted in royalty, was driven by two things and two things only in my opinion. Greed and Power. The individuals enslaved during the trans-Atlantic slave trade weren’t just “regular” people. They were the best of the best. Enslavers and sellers literally had a process of picking the strongest and brightest to cultivate lands in which those chosen never seen. The individuals who arrived on these lands via the middle passage were intellectuals skilled in various capacities. It was those chosen individuals who civilized what we know now as the United States of America, as well as other countries and continents. This part of the museum visit laid the foundation and was a gut punch to prepare of what was to come. After gathering my bearings, I was able to the delve into the powerful quotes by those who were able to cement their account of slavery via oral history. The quote that stood out the most, was one of Elizabeth Freeman which stated “If one minute of freedom had been offered to me, and I had been told I must die at the end of that minute, I would have taken it.” Immediately anger struck.
While perusing through the civil war exhibit, it was tranquil to take pride in those of the U.S.C.T who helped their loved ones bask in freedom by fighting for the Union army. The bottom line is the war was fought by the Confederate army to keep enslaved people just that…. enslaved for a lifetime via the institution of chattel slavery. The powerful pictures of the U.S.C.T soldiers embodied the spirit of their ancestors and belief of gaining equal footing socially and economically for those intentionally oppressed. While entering the Jim Crow railroad exhibit displayed with “Whites only”, in the front section. I couldn’t help but think about those who had to take the long walk to the back of the bus without making eye contact with their white counterparts due to fear of being spat on, hair pulled or assaulted once they reached their destination.
At Emmett Till’s casket… you know what? I am going to leave my thoughts on that exhibit alone for my own mental keepsake. The empowering 70’s exhibit afforded this late 70’s baby (1979) a glimpse of what life was like during the time period besides reruns of my adored Sandford and Son sitcom. The culture created by African Americans demonstrated a sense of togetherness, toughness and fearlessness. Seeing women and men with big afros publicizing their pride and Shirley Chisolm being elected as the first African American women into congress, was just what the doctor ordered to ease my previous irritability. My first record ever purchased was Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. I remember purchasing it at a yard sale. I didn’t have a record player at the time (as a matter of fact I have never owned one) but I heard their songs on the radio and loved the message of empowerment. I hid the record under my bed because I knew if my mother saw it, it would’ve been trashed as (it would not have been no work of the Lord). Sigh…
My point is, to see the gigantic Public Enemy branding logo sparked a smile and sense of nostalgia. What I realized throughout this experience ultimately is just how great our impact is on mainstream culture then and now. We literally created every facet of what is deemed cool from fashion, music, language, cooking and dancing to name a few. Visiting the last floor lightened the mood completely, as I was in awe on just how much our current influence is represented in previous eras. They directly impact us culturally today. Hence why history is so important to immerse ourselves in. The past truly is a guidepost available to better understand human behavior across all aspects of life. Yes, the museum represents deeply rooted pain but it also exalts the very spirit of those throughout a span of generations who gave African Americans and others throughout the diaspora wonderful memories and accessibility to timeless music, pride, education and fashion today.
At the end of this museum journey we triumph at the intellect of James Baldwin, the deep baritone voice of Paul Robeson, the language preservation of the Gullah folk, the tenacity of Ida B. Wells, the protective nature of the Black Panthers, the comedy of Redd Foxx, the vision of Parliaments Mothership, the music genius of Steve Wonder, the education from Nikki Giovani, the entrepreneurial spirit of Maggie L. Walker and empowering instruction by Frederick Douglass. It has been said as human beings we are losing touch with humanity, to a degree I agree, however, visiting this museum (if willing to be vulnerable) can elicit an emotion that makes one reflect on just how far we have come as a race and how the once severely oppressed provide the true characterization of “trendsetters” across the globe.
“Coming up in the African-American culture, we were taught that we belonged to the universe and society was wrong in the way it dealt with us. We had to learn to express and affirm values not from the winning position.”– Bernice Johnson Reagon
Peace and Blessings!