Start with Part 1 or read on.
I walked up the long ramp to the 2nd floor and was greeted by a sign marking the segregation era 1887 – 1967. There is something I always try to remember when someone asks when are ‘we’ going to be satisfied and move on from the ‘effects’ of slavery. And what I choose to remember is that I am one of the first generations in my family not to be born during the segregation era.
Often when the story of slavery and segregation is told in the history books or on the news it is told from the White perspective. What I most love and enjoyed about this museum is that it was clearly, CLEARLY, written by and organized with a respect for Black tradition and history. I walked right up to that Rosa Parks exhibit and started reading, LOOKING for something and there it was. A simple statement that acknowledged, Rosa Parks was not the FIRST Black female to refuse to give up her seat on the bus. Another Black woman had a few months earlier but she was young and pregnant so the NAACP decided that Rosa Parks would make a better case. applause for respecting the history enough to write what few documentaries or movies ever mention.
A very sincere moment was at a section of racist artifacts from the time. You know what I am talking about, the little dolls and other characters demeaning African American features or common jobs held by Black people. A young White boy and his father were standing in front of one of the doll displays and the little boy said, “I have one of those dolls!” And without even looking at the rest of the room, acting embarrassed, or raising his voice, the dad said, “[Little Timmy] if you look closely you will see they exaggerated the features to make fun of these people.”
Let me tell you why I think our country is still suffering from deep racism. It’s because parents, both Black and White, are not retraining their kids from what has been and continues to be living racist cultural ideas that rule our lives. So when I walk into my engineering classrooms White kids are STILL surprised that I belong here. It starts young and it starts early! I’ve been knowing that my face isn’t ‘pretty enough’ since the 5th grade and that was from an altercation on the playground. So seriously, tell your neighbor or your friend that pretending racism does not exist is not NEAR enough.
The most heart wrenching part of this whole tour without a doubt was Emmet Till.
If you will recall Emmet Till’s casket was exhumed and opened in 2005 during a court case to ‘confirm’ his identity. so. much. shade.
When that happened and it was time to lay his body back to rest, the family transferred him to a new casket and cleaned his old casket. It is now sitting in the NMAAHC and this is how we saw it…
They lined us up in a single line, and with some instructions to be quiet and to take no pictures we walked in, just like a funeral procession, to a darkened room. As we walked by the casket, they included the Life magazine picture of what Emmet looked like after his murder. And in the end we all watched a mini documentary of the first hand accounts of his murder and words from his mother. When hearing the story, I realized for the first time I understood something new. The killings of Mark Brown, Trayvon Martin, and other Black men and women are like modern day lynchings. That term has been around for awhile but I never connected it personally. If you line them up side by side, how these deaths are unprovoked, generally involve someone feeling uncomfortable or threatened by the skin color and no real action of hostility, the undue process of an execution and often the public exposure afterwards, it is all the same. And that made me really sad.
In the case of Emmet Till’s casket and many other artifacts in the museum, they were carefully removed from their original environment and restored and brought to the museum. This is important. The time and dedication that was spent to preserve this history is not a widespread practice for African American culture. Not IN our culture but FOR our culture. I could have told you from a young age that Rosa Parks was not the first AA woman to refuse to give up her seat. But in other museums or books about AMERICAN history, when would that level of detail place any real precedence??
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