I had the pleasure of participating in a media preview of the National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C., last week. I was there for a series of meetings and activities with the National Newspaper Publishers Association, and much to my delight, the museum visit was on our agenda.
As I walked through the museum, so many words ran through my mind: exhilarating, reflective, sad, proud and disheartened are just some of them.
There were so many emotions, so many illustrations of the ugly truths that were reflective of the lives of African-Americans generation after generation. There were nearly 37,000 visual artifacts that demonstrated just what Blacks in this country endured. There were also a lot of proud moments — from exhibits on African-Americans in theater and music, to displays honoring people like Oprah Winfrey and President Barack Obama.
Bringing the museum to fruition has been a tremendous work in progress, literally 100 years in the making. Thankfully, it is here now, and that is something that this entire country, particularly African-Americans, should be tremendously proud of. We have to support the museum in any way possible, and that includes going to visit the space. While the museum rolled out the red carpet for the media the day I visited, I’m excited to go back and experience it again and again with my friends and family. The National Museum of African American History & Culture should be something that all African-Americans aim to see. Sure, family vacations to theme parks and isolated cabins are fun and should be enjoyed, but I encourage Black families to also visit the museum on a regular basis.
The old adage, “You never know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been,” is as true today as it has always been. And while many of us have a great understanding of our history, actually seeing the various exhibits will emit emotions and bring about perspectives that serve as motivating forces for us individually to do our part to help our communities. The museum is reflective of us, and so it is our responsibility to continually educate ourselves and others about the experiences — triumphs and challenges — of our people.
As I walked through the museum, I couldn’t help but notice that, although time has passed, some of the issues Blacks faced years ago in this country are still issues today.
One of the exhibits focused on the civil rights movement. My eyes were fixated on images of participants of the historic 1963 March on Washington. The individuals held signs that said, “We demand an end to bias now,” and “We demand equal rights now.”
Fifty-three years later, those words are still relevant to the discrimination and bias that Blacks and other minorities face each day now, be it unfair lending practices, racial profiling or even sexism.
During my time at the museum, I also learned about Harry T. Moore and his wife Harriette. Harry was an educator and activist who built the Florida NAACP to a peak of 10,000 members within two years — an enormous feat at the time. Harry actively protested unequal salaries, segregated schools and the disenfranchisement of Blacks. He was also an activist who fought against lynchings and police brutality.
Among the cases he investigated was the murder of two handcuffed Black men by a white sheriff in 1951. Six weeks after the inmates were killed, Harry and Harriette were the victims of a bombing. The device was placed beneath the floor joists under his bed. Harry died that day, which happened to be Christmas, and his wife died nine days later.
Harry Moore was the first NAACP official killed in the civil rights struggle, and he and Harriette are the only husband and wife to give their lives to the movement.
Reading the Moores’ story at the museum reminded me how deeply rooted the struggle of Blacks is, but it also reminded me of the personal sacrifices each of us must make to enhance the lives of our people. When we join forces and unite for a common cause, we will eventually see the effects of our labor.
I will end this editorial with two quotes that serve as call to actions for me and hopefully for you as well.
“Let us therefore combine our forces and make a more determined effort to secure for ourselves a fuller enjoyment of our Constitutional rights.” — Harry T. Moore
“The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.”
— Ida B Wells
Let’s continue to unite and let’s continue to expose the ugly realities and adverse treatment of our people.
SHANNON WILLIAMS @IndyRecorder