American History Through an African American Lens

Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture
Last week, senior Smithsonian officials and representatives from the design and construction team gathered for a ceremonial beam signing at the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s construction site. Smithsonian leadership, including Secretary, Wayne Clough and NMAAHC Founding Director, Lonnie Bunch, recognized the construction team’s hard work in reaching 50% completion on the construction project. After officials signed the steel beam, it was lifted by crane and secured in the museum’s structure. 
You can view additional photos on our Pinterest page. 
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Last week, senior Smithsonian officials and representatives from the design and construction team gathered for a ceremonial beam signing at the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s construction site. Smithsonian leadership, including Secretary, Wayne Clough and NMAAHC Founding Director, Lonnie Bunch, recognized the construction team’s hard work in reaching 50% completion on the construction project. After officials signed the steel beam, it was lifted by crane and secured in the museum’s structure. 
You can view additional photos on our Pinterest page. 
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Last week, senior Smithsonian officials and representatives from the design and construction team gathered for a ceremonial beam signing at the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s construction site. Smithsonian leadership, including Secretary, Wayne Clough and NMAAHC Founding Director, Lonnie Bunch, recognized the construction team’s hard work in reaching 50% completion on the construction project. After officials signed the steel beam, it was lifted by crane and secured in the museum’s structure. 
You can view additional photos on our Pinterest page. 
Zoom
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Last week, senior Smithsonian officials and representatives from the design and construction team gathered for a ceremonial beam signing at the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s construction site. Smithsonian leadership, including Secretary, Wayne Clough and NMAAHC Founding Director, Lonnie Bunch, recognized the construction team’s hard work in reaching 50% completion on the construction project. After officials signed the steel beam, it was lifted by crane and secured in the museum’s structure. 
You can view additional photos on our Pinterest page. 
Zoom
Info
Last week, senior Smithsonian officials and representatives from the design and construction team gathered for a ceremonial beam signing at the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s construction site. Smithsonian leadership, including Secretary, Wayne Clough and NMAAHC Founding Director, Lonnie Bunch, recognized the construction team’s hard work in reaching 50% completion on the construction project. After officials signed the steel beam, it was lifted by crane and secured in the museum’s structure. 
You can view additional photos on our Pinterest page. 
Zoom
Info

Last week, senior Smithsonian officials and representatives from the design and construction team gathered for a ceremonial beam signing at the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s construction site. Smithsonian leadership, including Secretary, Wayne Clough and NMAAHC Founding Director, Lonnie Bunch, recognized the construction team’s hard work in reaching 50% completion on the construction project. After officials signed the steel beam, it was lifted by crane and secured in the museum’s structure. 

You can view additional photos on our Pinterest page. 

In Memoriam: A Celebration of Geoffrey Holder’s Life and Legacy

Caption: Tin Man’s headpiece from “The Wiz”, 1974, designed by: Geoffrey Holder  and worn by Tiger Haynes. Collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of the Black Fashion Museum founded by Lois K. Alexander-Lane.

“I create for that innocent little boy in the balcony who has come to the theatre for the first time,” Geoffrey Holder told Dance magazine in 2010. “He wants to see magic, so I want to give him magic. He sees things that his father couldn’t see.”

When I think of Geoffrey Holder, a Trini, dancer, choreographer, actor, composer, designer, sculptor and painter, I cannot help but think how this native of Trinidad and Tobago indeed created magic in the African American experience. This past Sunday we lost Geoffrey to complications from pneumonia. He was 84. New York was poised to mark his passing by dimming the lights on Broadway for one minute.

By anyone’s standards, he had a full life and commanded attention on any stage he owned. There was no missing him. He did not just master different mediums; he refined them, infusing them with his broad range of West Indian enchantment. And as a Renaissance man who was involved in all facets of artistic production, he loved to share that enchantment onstage with none other than his wife of 59 years, Carmen De Lavallade. Together, they made a statement to capture cultural traditions and produce a multisensory experience.

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Caption:Portrait of Geoffrey Holder and Carmen de Lavallade, by Carl Van Vechten, 1955, Library of Congress. 

A versatile man, indeed, in the course of his life, he acted on stage and in films. He directed a dance troupe from his native island on Broadway and the Metropolitan Opera. He choreographed for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Dance Theatre of Harlem.  In 1975 he won Tony Awards for directing action and  designing the costumes for the Broadway sensation, “The Wiz,” an all-black version of “The Wizard of Oz” starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson.

I recall spending several days with Mr. Holder, him walking me through his amazing home that was rich with history and culture.  We spent hours examining his creativity.  Later, he donated costumes from “The Wiz” to this museum.  We are proud to be able to share them as a key part of our Black Fashion Museum collection. Several of his costumes will be on view in the museum’s inaugural exhibition exploring contemporary artists whose work transformed the representation of African American culture in theater.

The cast of the Broadway "Wiz"; Hinton Battle, Stephanie Mills, Ted Ross, and Tiger Haynes.

Caption: The cast of the Broadway “Wiz”; Hinton Battle, Stephanie Mills, Ted Ross, and Tiger Haynes.

We are grateful his career was recognized during his lifetime and even more grateful for his contributions to the African American cultural tapestry. Who can forget the characters Baron Samedi in “Live and Let Die,” Punjab in “Annie” or the voice of Ray in “Bear in the Big Blue House?” As a multifaceted artist whose work and talents were often guided by Caribbean folklore, he activated my consciousness with his dance classics – “ Prodigal Prince” (1971), “Dougla” (1974) and “Timbuktu!” (1978).

Geoffrey Holder’s work embodied his inherent multilayered identity. He knew how to grab disparate elements and bring them together. He knew the importance of creativity and identity. He knew how to manifest all aspects of our African diaspora identity for the world to see.

 “He was at the heart of the African diaspora traditions,” says Dwandalyn R. Reece, curator of music and performing arts for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). His story became our story. His multicultural journey became this nation’s journey.”

I will never forget the enormity of his talent and the generosity of his spirit. With his hearty laugh and that heavily accented, lower-than-low bass voice, we will always hear him saying, “absolutely marvelous.” And marvelous he was.

By Lonnie G. Bunch III, Founding Director, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. 

Join Us For Ask a Curator Day!

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Photo: The descendants of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison view items donated by their family with NMAAHC curators. (Michael R. Barnes/Smithsonian)

Tomorrow, join the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) for Ask a Curator Day! Over 649 museums from 49 countries will take part in the annual event designed to engage museum staff with our digital audiences. 

Use Twitter and the tags #AskaCurator or #AskNMAAHC to get answers directly from our curatorial staff. We have experts on hand with subject area expertise in photography, fashion, music & performing arts, social movements, and history. 

Not on Twitter? Ask your questions in the comments section of this blog, email them to nmaahcweb@si.edu., or send them to our Facebook page.

Meet our Curators: 

2:00 - 2:30: Aaron B.

Title: Andrew Mellon Curator of Photography

Interests: Social theory, cultural history, popular culture; literature, theater, and the performing arts; business models and operations.

2:30 -3:00: Dwan R.

Title: Curator of Music and Performing Arts

Professional Research Interests: American Music, particularly classical, popular and folk; Theater, African American Performance, Film (1900-1960), Popular Entertainment, issues of gender, race and ethnicity in performance.

3:00 - 3:30: Elaine N.

Title: Supervisory Curator of Culture

Professional Research Interests: Dress and adornment (costumes, jewelry, body arts, etc.) textiles (quilting traditions); building arts (African American pottery and  basket-making) and African American religion.

3:30 - 4:00: Michelle W. 

Title:  Curator

Professional Research Interests:  African American and African Diaspora cultural studies; architecture and design; literary and visual arts; mentoring and professional development for emerging museum professionals.

4:00 - 4:30: William P.

Title:  Supervisory Curator of History

Professional Research Interests:  History of labor and technology, radical movements.

Tweet your questions to @NMAAHC.

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Photo: Rosa Parks’ Dress, c. 1955. Dress that Rosa Parks was making shortly before she was arrested for not giving up her seat on a segregated bus. The dress is part of the Black Fashion Museum Collection that was donated to NMAAHC. Gift of Joyce A. Bailey

A few tips for participating in Ask a Curator Day:

  • If you’d like to follow the full conversation and see questions and answers between other individuals and museums, use a website such as TweetChat to view all talk using the hashtag.
  • If you’re new to Twitter, there are many helpful guides to get you started.
  • Not sure what a curator is or does? Ask! Questions about what it’s like to work in a museum, how curators got where they are today, and what a typical work day is like are most welcome. Our curators appreciate the opportunity to reflect on their work and increase awareness about the jobs they do.
  • Curators are passionate about their specific topic areas and love to discuss them. Just like any professional with a specialized expertise, they sometimes hesitate to speculate on questions outside their scope. If you have a question they can’t answer, we’ll do our best to point you in the direction of a resource that may be able to.
  • First, best, most valuable, biggest, tallest, oldest—superlatives are fun. But they can be hard to establish. How can a curator say this is the first color photograph without worrying that future research will prove the answer wrong? If you ask for an example of an early color photograph or what it was like to switch from black and white to color, you might get a more useful answer!
  • Some questions can’t be answered in 140 characters, the limit Twitter puts on tweets. If that’s the case, we’ll save your question and try to get back to you with an answer. 
  • Another option for those longer-than-a-tweet sized questions is to Ask the Smithsonian through Smithsonian Magazine. Unlike the short-and-sweet questions common on Ask a Curator Day, Ask the Smithsonian encourages you to “think big” as they’re seeking 
    “complex questions that will generate new ideas, new visions, and new conversations.”
  • If you’re not on Twitter, you can always reach the museum through Facebook, commenting on blog posts, or in a variety of other ways.

Tips courtesy of the National Museum of American History.

On September 15th, 1963, white supremacists planted a bomb under the steps of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The explosion killed Denise McNair (age 11), Addie Mae Collins (age 14), Carole Robertson (age 14), and Cynthia Wesley (age 15), who were attending Sunday school.
These glass shards are from the church’s stained-glass window. They were gathered at the funeral of the four little girls killed in the bombing. Also pictured is a shotgun shell collected from the gutter outside the church.

More info: http://bit.ly/1sbZZEc
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift from the Trumpauer-Mulholland Collection.
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On September 15th, 1963, white supremacists planted a bomb under the steps of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The explosion killed Denise McNair (age 11), Addie Mae Collins (age 14), Carole Robertson (age 14), and Cynthia Wesley (age 15), who were attending Sunday school.

These glass shards are from the church’s stained-glass window. They were gathered at the funeral of the four little girls killed in the bombing. Also pictured is a shotgun shell collected from the gutter outside the church.

More info: http://bit.ly/1sbZZEc

Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift from the Trumpauer-Mulholland Collection.

Free Angela and Building NMAAHC’s Public Programs

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On Wednesday, September 10th, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) will screen and host a discussion of Free Angela Davis and All Political Prisoners, directed by Shola Lynch. The documentary explores the life of Angela Y. Davis, Ph.D. a brilliant young scholar and how, because of her activism in support of social justice, she was criminalized and named on the FBI’s 10 most wanted list. Ms. Lynch and Dr. Davis will engage in a discussion of the film moderated by Rhea Combs, Ph.D. NMAAHC film and photography curator.

The program was planned from start to finish by Deirdre C., the Adult and Family Programs Coordinator at NMAAHC. I asked her a few questions about the event, planning a public program, and why it was important to bring Angela Davis to the museum. 

 On choosing topics for NMAAHC’s programs: 

I identify topics for NMAAHC using several criteria:

  • To interpret NMAAHC exhibitions as they’re on view in our gallery located on the 2nd floor of the National Museum of American History.
  • To interpret NMAAHC collections, including new additions to our group of objects as well as ones that we’ve had for a while.
  • I also work very closely with colleagues on the museum’s education, curatorial, and leadership teams to develop programming as well.

On why it was important to bring a discussion around Davis to the museum: 

In terms on of this screening and conversation, we all recognize that Prof. Davis is a figure for the ages, as fascinating to us now as she was at the height of her incarceration and trial. Hers is a quintessential American story of activism. She witnessed and experienced injustice as it occurred and dedicated her life’s work towards a goal of seeing that all Americans are treated fairly under the law, and not jailed unjustly.  I think that her life can inspire us all to live as more engaged citizens within our communities, voting and speaking about how our towns, cities, states are governed.

We are also very lucky to work with the Free Angela Davis’ documentary director, Shola Lynch, and our own, Rhea Combs, curator of film and photography as part of this program to provide a more complete context for viewing and discussion.

 On what audiences can expect: 

 Our audiences will learn about Angela Davis and her imprint on late 20th Century American culture. They will also get a glimpse of what to expect from NMAAHC exhibitions, and programs as our staff interprets this nation’s history, explaining the pivotal role that individual Americans have played at all levels to make all of our lives better.

 The event is free and open to the public. 

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EVENT UPDATE:

The event will now be shown twice, at 5:30 p.m. and at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

PLEASE BE ADVISED that the location has been moved to The Nineteenth Street Baptist Church. Also, we have reached maximum capacity for both event times and are unable to accept any more reservations.

You can view the film and discussion live at 5:30 p.m and 8:00 p.m EST on your computer by clicking this link for the webcast.

 By Lanae Spruce, Digital Content Specialist, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. 

A Fond Farewell to Changing America

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Photo: Gallery entrance to the Changing America exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. 

Two fundamental advances in the American story, and how those actions affected this country, have been vividly celebrated in the “Changing America” exhibition at the National Museum of American History. The installation, created by the National Museum of African American History and Culture, examined the impact of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1893 and the March on Washington in 1963.

Only a few days are left to visit this innovative show that looks at this central arc of 100 years and not only explains the past but underscores the ongoing battles for equality in America. The exhibit closes Sunday, September 7th.

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Photo: Tintype of African American soldier. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift from the Liljenquist Family Collection.

Entering the exhibition, the visitor can choose to first study the world of 1863. Many people, free, enslaved and sympathetic, challenged the system of slavery. The display of Nat Turner’s bible illustrates how powerful individuals were in this fight and how electrifying were the slave rebellions. The conditions that marked the hardships of slavery are captured in many items, including child shackles. The fight to maintain slavery is illustrated in the ads for runaways. How Abraham Lincoln came to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, the document considered a turning point in the country’s history, is part of the compelling narrative.

Yet, 100 years later, more than 250,000 people needed to march in the capitol to let the country and its leaders know the goal of equality, halted by segregation, lynching and minimal jobs, had not been attained.  They gathered at the Lincoln Memorial, which had become a place for celebration and protest since it was dedicated in 1922 and since the great contralto Marian Anderson had sung in 1939. The 1963 event is brought to life in posters, photographs and video of the day’s historic oratory, including Rev. Martin L. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

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Photo: March on Washington organizing manual, Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The stories remind people that these watershed events in 1863 and 1963 were not singular acts but part of a progression that will be reflected in the many narratives the museum will tell. Some of the visitors’ comments have reflected the power of these twin stories. “We have evolved from slaves to proud leaders,” wrote an 11-year-old. Noting that 50 years is not that long ago, a 48-year-old woman wrote “this march is my foundation, my beacon of the power of endurance and my peoples’ spirit of survival.”

After the artifacts are taken down, they are being prepared for the inaugural exhibitions for the museum’s opening in 2016. Artifacts that belonged to abolitionist Harriet Tubman, glass shards from the 16th St. Baptist Church bombing in 1963 and the pocket watch of Bayard Rustin, the organizer of the 1963 march, will be among the many prepared for display and their  everlasting lessons.   

Click the link for more information on the exhibition collection.

Written by Jacqueline Trescott.

Remembering the 1963 March on Washington

Photo: Protesters at he 1963 March on Washington. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, gift of James H. Wallace Jr.

On August 28, 1963, work in the nation’s capital came to a halt as thousands of demonstrators made their way to Washington. The city had never seen a demonstration of this magnitude. Around the world, millions watched on television as 250,000 people of different backgrounds came together to demand social justice.

The events that day helped mark the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation and reminded Americans of the nation’s long pursuit to fulfill its founding principles of liberty and equality for all.

Our current Changing America exhibition highlights the impact of the 1963 March on Washington: http://bit.ly/XW9wbc

Photo: The crowd at the 1963 March on Washington. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

"This building will sing for all of us." Lonnie Bunch II, Founding Director, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. 

In a 30-minute documentary, Oliver Hardt explores the design concert for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Designed by British-Ghanaian architect, David Adjaye, the film highlights how Adjaye deals with the challenge of building one of the most important buildings in African American history. Hardt takes viewers through the historical, social, and aesthetic considerations manifested in Adjaye’s design for the museum. 

More about the film: 

For the British-Ghanaian architect David Adjaye, a dream of his young career fulfilled: In an international competition to the more than 70 architects were invited world, he continued in 2009 in the final selection against competitors such as Sir Norman Foster and Diller Scofidio + Renfro by . Adjaye was awarded the contract, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) building in Washington DC. In addition to interviews with Adjaye and other project managers, the film illustrates the basis of design sketches and models of the museum, the design details of the project. Also, the plot at the end of the National Mall, where the museum is being built right next to the Washington Monument, plays a role: it is the place where past, present and future of American society intersect. ”The Great March on Washington,” the great freedom march in August 1963 at the end of the famous speech of Martin Luther King stood here took his starting point.

We will update this post when the entire film is available.

NMAAHC Travelogues: Along the East Coast

Part four in a four-part series about historic African American sites to visit while traveling the US. Read all the contributions to this blog series: part one, part two, and part three.

If you have decided to ditch the car, the East Coast offers several history-rich sites by train, a chance to stretch your legs and read up on this well-preserved corridor of history.

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Photo: Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where Martin Luther King Jr. preached. Credit: Erin McDaniel, Wikimedia Commons. 

Georgia

This Southern city has established a National Historic District centered on the birthplace of Rev. Martin L. King, Jr. at 501 Auburn Avenue.  Make those grainy newsreels come to life with stops at the King family’s Ebenezer Baptist Church and the storefronts of the famous business district called Sweet Auburn Avenue. One feature of the District is a Walk of Fame allowing visitors to follow the footsteps of people who fought for civil rights. The APEX Museum on Auburn specializes in local history and family reunion tour, and is currently showing, “Africa: The Untold Story.”  

Pick up a copy of the Atlanta Daily World, established by the Scott family in 1928, for insights into black Atlanta. In the Atlanta University Center complex is Spelman College, the home of the Spelman Museum of Fine Art, with a permanent exhibition of 20th Century African American art (on the website it say the museum is closed for summer break; should the reference remain in the post?). For a glimpse of modern entertainment history, check out the schedule for tours of filmmaker Tyler Perry’s state-of-the-art studios.

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Photo: Gantt Center

North and South Carolina

Centuries of ghosts haunt Charleston, S.C.—a good introduction to region is the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture. The Avery Normal Institute was a successful secondary school for African Americans from 1865 to 1954 and its building houses the center on the College of Charleston.  Many of the sites related to the Civil War and Reconstruction are prominently marked in downtown Charleston. Enjoy the breeze off the Charleston Battery and imagine how runaway slaves snuck onto friendly ships headed north. The Denmark Vesey House acknowledges the bravery of the failed slave revolt, where more than 30 people were hung, including the organizer Vesey.  But don’t neglect  the sweet grass baskets handicrafts from Mary Jackson, winner of a National Heritage Award. Available right on the streets of Charleston, these baskets help portray the rich history of the West African community in South Carolina.

In Charlotte, N.C. the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture is a beautiful facility designed by Philip Freelon, one of the architects of our building.  The evocative center is also the home of the John and Vivian Hewitt Art Collection, one of the country’s most important private assemblages of African American art. Through June 15th, the center is showing “African American Art Since 1950: Perspectives from the David C. Driskell Center.”

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Photo: Avery Normal Institute 

Virginia

Virginia has history on almost every stretch of the state and the capital, Richmond, has been working hard to tell the history from all perspectives. In Richmond the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar is a museum with the Civil War story is told from the Union, Confederate and African American perspectives. Showing now is the 10th Cavalry Drum from the Buffalo Soldiers, regiments of African American soldiers during the Civil War. For a look at Richmond’s famous African Americans, there are statues of William “Bojangles” Robinson, the great dancer and humanitarian, and Arthur Ashe, the pioneering tennis champion. The National Park Service has preserved the home of Maggie Lena Walker, the first woman to charter a bank in the U.S. bank.

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Photo: The Lincoln Memorial

Washington, D.C.

When you get to Washington, D.C., there is an exhaustive list of sights, and even if this is your third or fourth trip, do go to the Lincoln Memorial. There is now a plaque where Rev. Martin L. King, Jr. stood on that August day in 1963, letting his voice echo far past the Reflecting Pool and into our collective consciousness.   With the passage of time, you might understand even better the power of his words. The towering statue of King, dedicated in 2011, is only a short walk away. Don’t forget to take a look at the grounds for the National Museum of African American History and stop by the Welcome Center on Constitution Avenue near the Washington Monument – opening in 2016, the building has really begun to take shape. 

 Over the years the achievements of African American citizens have been immortalized around Washington. When you leave the White House and Lafayette Park, visit the Decatur House where the 1822 slave quarters are accessible to visitors. Then walk east a couple of blocks to 1500 H St. NW. A marker commemorates the Wormley Hotel, the prestigious business James A. Wormley opened in 1871 and served the dignitaries of the day. Cultural Tourism DC has placed many markers around town to bring attention to the deeds of blacks of the past.

Away from downtown, and the tourist-crammed sidewalks, is the Mt. Zion Cemetery at 27th and Q Sts. N.W. in Georgetown. Already in use as a cemetery for freed and slave blacks, the land was purchased in 1842 by the Female Union Band Society, an organization started by free black women. It is a wonderful walk and history lesson.

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Photo: John Johnson House. Credit: Audrey,. Wikimedia Commons. 

Philadelphia

The Last Stop in our Travelogues is Philadelphia—Mother Bethel AME Church is a prime destination, with its ministry in continuous service since 1797 and its activity in the Underground Railroad.  It is located on the oldest property continually owned by African Americans.  Philadelphia was a hub for the Underground Railroad and that bravery is remembered at the home of William Still, a coal merchant who helped as many as 800 people escape and the Johnson House Historic Site, the home of a Quaker family of abolitionists. A newer point of interest is the President’s House Commemorative Site, the home of George Washington and John Adams from 1790-1800. In 2010 a memorial was opened to tell the Washington story, as well as the story of the nine slaves who worked in the house. The location at 6th and Market can be visited 24 hours a day.

Ever since its founding days Philadelphia has had a bounty of museums. Right now the African American Museum in Philadelphia is showing a detailed exhibit of photographs entitled “Distant Echoes: Black Farmers in America”.

 By Lonnie G. Bunch III, Founding Director, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. 

NMAAHC Travelogues: The Northern Tour

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Photo: Chicago Skyline

Part three in a four-part series about historic African American sites to visit while traveling the US. Read all the contributions to this blog series: part one, part two, and part four.

Chicago was my home for many years, so I could give you an exhaustive list of what awaits you in this city of many personalities.  The best place to start is at the beginning.

 Jean-Baptiste Point Du Sable, a black man from Haiti, established a trading post in 1779 on the Chicago River and out of this grew one of America’s great cities. Your urban adventure should start at the Du Sable Marker at 401 N. Michigan Ave. More information about the city’s founder is installed at the Chicago Historical Society.  The Chicago History Museum, at 1601 N. Clark St., right now is showing “Unexpected Chicago,” an eclectic array of items, including Etta Moten Barnett’s hat.

 The headquarters of Johnson Publishing, which publishes Ebony and Jet and sponsored the international runway show, is a black landmark, right on Michigan Ave. The Du Sable Museum of African-American History and Art opens a new exhibit, “Funky Turns 40: Black Character Revolution Animation Art from Classic Cartoons of the ‘70s” on June 27th. You don’t have to go inside to see art in Chicago. Public art is everywhere.  Look for the exquisite sculptures of Alison Saar, Preston Jackson and Richard Hunt. Not to be missed is the 2,000 pound statue of basketball great Michael Jordon outside the United Center. 

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Photo: Michael Jordan Statue

Chicago remains an active home for blues music and a good resource is Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation in the building that belonged to Chess Records. Call ahead to see if some music is brewing –you just might get lucky and catch a free concert. For your record collection, you can’t go wrong at the Jazz Record Mart, a huge storehouse of all types of music. And I strongly recommend a river tour sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Foundation; the view of the iconic buildings and the guides’ dialogue are worth your time.

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Photo: Striver’s Row

New York City

New York City, like Chicago, has a history lesson on almost every block. So travel to this vibrant destination and learn about the involvement of black Americans from its earliest days to the neighborhood revivals of the present. Near the tip of Manhattan and the World Trade Center memorial site is the moving African Burial Ground National Monument. This sacred spot, where slaves and freed blacks were buried in the 17th and 18th Century, was discovered in 1991 and the memorial is free. 

 The subway, the famed A-Train, and other train lines, will take you right to Harlem, the country’s most famous black conclave. Just walking will give you a hefty dose of history. Include in your tour the Studio Museum in Harlem at on 125th St., one of the country’s best art museums. The Apollo marquee at 253 W. 125th St. will advertise the current show, and you might be able to peek inside. The Hotel Theresa, at 125th and Seventh Ave., witnessed much of the 20th Century history. Joe Louis, the legendary boxer, held his victory parties there, and Fidel Castro held meetings with Malcolm X and Nikita Khrushchev at the hotel.

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Photo: Mother African Episcopal Zion Church

The exhibitions at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a division of the city’s public libraries are open Monday-Saturday. In the evenings are spirited discussions about film, literature and art. The current shows include an exhibit about the history of Motown, and opening in July, “We are the Music Makers,” outlining the history of traditional Southern music.

There are several historic residential areas in Harlem. Strivers Row on W. 138th and 139th has retained its exterior architectural signatures. The townhouses were built between 1891 and 1893 and were the goal of black professionals, once original white residents moved out.  Another group of houses with immense architectural history are the semi-detached homes on 130th Street. Called Astor Row because the wealthy Astor family started the project, the houses were built between 1880 and 1883 and have the unusual features of front porches and front yards.

On Sundays in Harlem, you will be jostling with tour buses to see the world renowned churches and hear the famed choirs.  Worth a stop is the Mother African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church at 1406 W. 137th St., the oldest black church in New York. A stop on the Underground Railroad, the church has been in Harlem since 1914. Mount Olivet Baptist Church at 201 Lenox Ave. is housed in a 1907 synagogue. Abyssinian Baptist Church, where Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Senior and Junior preached has been in its current location since 1923.

By Lonnie G. Bunch III, Founding Director, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. 

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