Back in March, my wife told me she was able to book tickets to the Smithsonian National History Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. I instantly got super excited in anticipation of the trip, easily surpassing any previous excitement for any other museum trip that I'd been on previously. I mean, eff a museum, right? They're cold and empty half the time, and also, the most important fact here, MUSEUMS ARE BORING AS EVERTON!! Keep it real, you probably haven't been to a museum since high school and I'm more than positive it's by choice. Looking at decades-old art, artifacts and letters does not scream "efficient use of free time". Ladies, if a guy took you on a first date to a museum, that doesn't count because that was just a poorly planned plot to impress you. Museums fail to capture the new millennial mindset - "Okay, this is all historically interesting and whatnot, but why does this matter to me?" From the rave reviews I had read about the NHMAAHC since its opening in September 2016, I was confident the exhibits wouldn't disappoint. But nothing prepared me for what i witnessed as we took the elevator to the basement level to begin touring the exhibit.
As I walked through the ground floor level, I was blown away by the intense amount of historical information on display about early European/African interaction in the 1400s, which eventually led to the Transatlantic slave trade through the Middle Passage from Africa to colonial America and other territories controlled by France, England and Spain. Inscribed on the walls of the exhibit were the names of all the slave ships and the nations they were sponsored by, their maiden and final voyages and the number of slaves they transported. Seeing an authentic slave auction block and reading quotes from enslaved Africans about how it felt to be ripped from the arms of their loved ones sent chills through my body. It didn't take long for me to realize that this wasn't my granddaddy's museum.
After a thorough exploration through the years of slavery, the Civil War and emancipation, the next part of the exhibit showcased Black life during reconstruction. On display were several artifacts that represented the Black struggle for equality through de-segregation; a comparison of white and colored water fountains, a door from a down-south restaurant that read "Whites Only" and a railway car similar to the one that Homer Plessy sat in to contest segregated passenger trains, leading to the landmark Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson, legalizing "separate but equal" public facilities. Further along were displays of different civil rights protests, their leaders and many people who were key in the movement that I'd never heard of. Along the walls of the exhibit were the names of thousands of Blacks who were lynched, some of them accompanied by photographs of White crowds looked on with satisfaction as Black bodies hung, "swinging in the summer breeze" much like the Nina Simone song, "Strange Fruit." As I walked among these artifacts and quotes, I felt my fists clench and my throat get dry. Feelings of anger and frustration began to swell up inside of me while reading about the assassination of Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. The feelings became stronger when I came across a display of Ku Klux Klan artifacts and finally manifested themselves into tears when I walked through the Emmett Till exhibit. His family's estate donated the original casket he was buried in to the NHMAAHC, and they even had the infamous picture of his mutilated face on display. Like I said, I was not prepared at all for how intense the exhibits were.
The hallmark of Black people is that despite every obstacle and roadblock in our path, we continue to march on towards glory. Even in the face of certain death and destruction, we never let fear deter us from our dreams. And when we are cornered, we will fight like hell to defend ourselves and our loved ones by any means necessary. These notions of Black perseverance were omnipresent on the third and final level of the museum. There were displays of Black Power leaders like Angela Davis and Stokley Carmichael. There was an awesome Black Panther display chronicling the lives and deaths of Bobby Seale, Fred Hampton and Huey Newton and even had the party's 10-point plan on display as well. A section for the Nation of Islam depicted its creation and emergence in the Black community through Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan. The final part of the exhibit showcased pictures and displays from Oprah, Run DMC, Public Enemy, Michael Jackson, Denzel Washington, Spike Lee, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and of course, the Obamas. Walking through this part of the museum brought about feelings of joy and most importantly - pride.. It became clearer than ever as to why the Europeans stole Africans from their homelands in the first place; they were afraid of us. All throughout history, we have been feared, which has led the majority to deter our progress at every turn- yet and still, we have never backed down or given up. I left the museum swelling with pride at my own Blackness finally realizing that no matter what any White nationalist or Neo-Nazi says or does, they'll never defeat us. They'll never get rid of us and our history will live on forever. Especially now that it is housed in the great museum of all time.
I spent nearly 3 hours in the NHMAAHC and only saw about 65% of the displays. A return trip is definitely in the works. This obviously wasn't your atypical museum trip; it was more like stepping into a time machine and seeing the different eras of Black history up close and personal. The slideshow below doesn't do the museum any justice at all, but enjoy the pictures me and my wife were able to capture.