Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Jacqueline Cogdell DjeDje, Ph.D.: The Huffington Post: Here’s What It’s Like To Walk Through The First National Black History Museum

Huffington Post: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Journalists tour the David M. Rubenstein History Galleries on the lower levels of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture during the press preview on the National Mall, Washington, D.C., Sept. 14, 2016.

Bill Clark via Getty Images
The exterior of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. 

Jacqueline Cogdell DjeDje, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus, Department of Ethnomusicology, The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music.  She forwards this article:

The Huffington Post
Julia Craven, Reporter
September 15, 2016

WASHINGTON ― When you step into the elevator on the top floor of the David M. Rubenstein History Galleries, there’s a timeline to your right. It begins with the word “Today.”
Pay attention to it.
As you descend, the timeline will lead you back into history, past President Barack Obama’s 2008 election, through the civil rights movement and Jim Crow. You’ll glide past Reconstruction, the Civil War and the height of African enslavement in the New World. Soon, the elevator will reach its destination: the belly of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

On Wednesday, journalists who flooded into the 400,000-square foot edifice, designed to resemble a three-tier corona found in Yoruban art, got a sneak peek at the museum’s galleries ahead of the Sept. 24 grand opening.
“The layout of the inside of the building is based on a scripted flow-through,” Phil Freelon, one of the building’s architects, told The Huffington Post. “One of the ways to experience this is sequentially, starting with the history gallery. The layout of the building allows for that, where you start at the lowest level ― [the] year 1400 is the beginning of the slave trade. It’s a smaller space, darker.”
“As the story unfolds in history, you emerge into a larger space and you ascend up a ramp system as you take in the different elements of history,” he went on. “In that way, we’re helping to choreograph the telling of that story.”

Near the entrance of “Slavery and Freedom,” you’ll read about the hellish Middle Passage. Once you finish, you should walk through the door to your right. You’ll enter a recreation of the Sao Jose, a slave ship that sank off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa, in 1794. The captain and his entire crew were rescued, along with half the enslaved Africans onboard. As you stand in the bowels of the ship, keep in mind that 212 black lives were lost and the survivors were resold on the Western Cape. Remember that the human beings who lived that day were only saved because of their monetary value to white men.
You’ll pass by exhibits explaining the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, where enslaved Africans were stowed like livestock in the bottoms of ships. You’ll see a glass display housing pounds of sugar, and a display honoring Crispus Attucks and other black patriots. Then you’ll walk out of the museum’s deepest pit, into the light, where a statue of Thomas Jefferson and three of his slaves will greet you. Behind Jefferson is a pile of bricks, each with a name emblazoned on it ― one brick for each slave who built Monticello, the former president’s primary plantation. The shackles at the base of the exhibit will catch your eye as Jefferson, who once wrote that “all men are created equal,” gazes off at something on the horizon.

Make your way past a display of various slave codes, which piled extra restrictions onto enslaved Africans in the hopes of preventing a rebellion. You’ll reach the shawl and hymnal of Harriet Tubman, and you’ll chuckle once you realize why the museum’s curators have chosen to evoke her at this particular point.
Go up a ramp, past a mural of a cotton field dotted with workers, and you’ll find a gallery dedicated to the post-Emancipation period ― a time when black people were freed from chains only to find themselves, in many cases, bound by nooses. “Defending Freedom, Defining Freedom: Era of Segregation 1876-1968” shows the violence, as well as the prosperity, of black life after enslavement.
A statue of U.S. Rep. Robert Smalls (R-S.C.), who was born into slavery and served in Congress during the Reconstruction era, greets you here. Blackface figurines sit in glass cases next to in-depth explanations of minstrelsy. Descriptions of Jim Crow, lynchings and Klan hoodies punctuate a larger narrative of progress ― such as the founding of historically black colleges and universities and the political activism of black women.

No comments: