At the African American Museum in Washington

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The newly commissioned black museum in Washington, D.C. is an eye opener to understand American history through the lens of the African American. Funke Olaode, finds out during her visit to America’s capital city that it is  a gallery that digs into the  past through stories and images

For a first time visitor to the quiet and serene Washington, D.C. the seat of power of the American government, there is always an urge to explore something new just as each passing day opens a new vista in the city.

The front of expansive White House is always a beehive of activities as every visitor wants to catch a glimpse of America’s seat of power.  The newly commissioned four storey building of National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) located on 14th Street, Madison Drive is beginning to attract visitors from all walks of life to have insight into the lives of an average African American before liberation.

The 2017 Spring Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Group provided me the opportunity to visit the newly opened gallery. After an intense weeklong high profile meetings, I chose Saturday afternoon to pay homage to the black root.   

NMAAHC is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, art, history, and culture. Commissioned in September 24, 2016, in a ceremony led by the former U.S. President Barack Obama, the gigantic edifice has welcomed more than 1 million visitors in the last eight months.

Divided into Concourse and Levels, each floor provides its visitor a sense of history through stories and images. Concourse 1-3 is a history gallery which tells the story of slavery and freedom, the era of segregation, a changing America, Atrium, contemplative Court, Opera Winfrey Theatre, Special Exhibitions Gallery and Sweet Home Café.

 The Level 1 where Heritage Hall is situated has Corona Pavilion, Welcome Centre, Museum Shop and Lockers. Level 2 with bold inscription ‘Explore More’ has explore your family center, center for Africa, American Media Arts, Learning Centre classrooms, interactive gallery, research library and archives. The most powerful one among the Levels is Level three with a sigh board “Making a way where there is no way” is a community gallery that houses the power of place, The African American Military experience and sport with an inscription, leveling the playing field.

Level 4 located on the upper (fourth floor) is also an emotional abode that reminds visitors of how African-American broke even in music. 

According to history, there were no African Americans before the Transatlantic Slave Trade. A new culture emerged out of the trauma of that history and through traditions made and remade on new shores. This self-creation is everywhere in the day-to day lives of African American. It’s in the food eaten, the language spoken, the art created, and many other forms of cultural expression. Held within and passed through families and communities, African American culture reflects beliefs, informs behavior, foster creativity, and most of all, and sustains the spirit during times of overwhelming adversity.  With this sense of history on display already prepares visitors ahead of what to encounter touring the expansive museum.

Having gone through all the galleries, I decided to pitch my tent with Level 3 and Level 4 located on third and fourth floor respectively.

By the entrance of Level 3 (third floor) is a big screen that shows the image of the first black President Obama delivering speech. And on the sign board is an inscription “Making a way where there is no way”.  The text on the board throws back questions to its readers, how do you make a way where there is no way? Of course, the answer is simple. For generations, African American worked collectively to survive and thrive in the midst of racial oppression. And through education, religious institutions, businesses, and voluntary associations, black men and women created ways to serve and strengthen their communities. 

They established networks of mutual support, cultivated leadership, and improved social and economic opportunities. They also developed a traditional activities that paved the way for broader social change.

African American Medal of Honour recipients/Segregated Military

On the far right in this gallery on the third floor is the African American Military experience: Here are African American Medal of Honour Recipients and Segregated Military.  As the story goes, a segregated military African Americans’ service from the American Revolution to the civil war helped secure  for them freedom and citizenship, but not equality.  From Indian wars of the 1860s to the start of the Korean War, African Americans continued to fight bravely in every American conflict. But they also served in a segregated military that reflected the racial prejudice and exclusion of society at large. But in 1948, a relief came to the black race (army) through an executive order 9981 that began the process of military integration.

 On display in this section are African American medal of honour recipients.  The medal of honour is the nation’s highest military award. In 1996, the Pentagon determine that some African Americans had been denied the medal because of race. During the World War l and ll, no African Americans received the medal, an oversight the Pentagon corrected in 1997. The men engraved on the wall in the gallery epitomized their nation’s call for selfless service and the medal’s requirements for “gallantry” and actions above and beyond the call of duty were awarded posthumously. 

Sports Arena: leveling the playing field.

The third floor also houses the sports arena with an inscription: leveling the playing field. Here, various jerseys, snickers, boots are on display. Likewise, statues of young athletes stood still in the midst of sport kits.  Very close to the ceiling is large screen with video of past and present outstanding African American athletes such as Carl Lewis, Michael Johnson, Bob Beamon and several others. Of significant note in this arena is the large portrait photograph of the legendary boxing titan and activist, the late Muhammad Ali with a bold inscription “I shook the world.”

Here, visitor is taking down memory lane of Ali’s exploit beyond sport. No doubt, Muhammad Ali was a force of change and was one of boxing’s greatest champions. Ali’s legacy transcends the world sport. In the 1960s and 1970s, he offered unwavering critiques of racism, heightened the profile of the Nation of Islam, and raised awareness of the Vietnam War. After his boxing career, Ali continued to work globally as a force for change, eclipsing his success in the ring and triumphing as a social activist, cultural critic, and humanitarian.  His name would remain evergreen not only in the African American history but as a global icon.

Evolution of African American music

Having satisfied my curiosity, I took my exploration to the last floor. Here,   there is a display of cultural expressions, taking the stage, musical crossroads and visual art. The arrival of the first Africans on these shores set a new path for American music. For over 400 years, African American musical creativity and innovation has generated, transformed, contributed to, and enriched a vast array of musical forms. This center tells the story of the musical creations of African Americans, through a narrative of hope and struggle, faith and perseverance, culture and tradition, and pride and liberation.

Apart from new generations of African American music diva such as Beyoncé, Ciara, Kelly Roland, Jay-Z, Chris Brown etc., the late pop icon, Michael Jackson was accorded a prominence space in this museum. The memorabrelia of the late musician were neatly displayed in an open transparent glass which brings the old memory of the legend who ruled the music world until his passage in June 2009.

Mothership

On display is mothership. The  P-Funk Mothership is one of the most iconic stage props in the history of popular music. The mothership delivered an unmatched visual spectacle for the audience and represented the spirit behind P-Funk’s  music. Figuratively, the Mother ship emancipated the audience members and transported them to a plane free from racism and earthly constraints-it remains a symbol of the liberating power of music.

Chuck Berry’s Cadillac…breaking the jinx

Another music legend which you can’t miss in this music theatre is Chuck Berry who was renowned and owned a fleet Cadillac’s. He loved his wonder wheel so much that he mentioned them in his songs. 

This Cadillac was driven on stage at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis in the documentary hail! Hail! Rock and Roll! The same theatre had turned Berry away as a child because he was black.

Power of vision (Henry Boyd and Garret Morgan)

After almost three hours touring this Museum, the take away is power of self-discovery, belief in oneself, don’t give up in the face of adversity and fighting for one’s right. The story of Henry Boyd’s, a, entrepreneur from Kentucky and inventor Garret Morgan from Ohio caught my eyes.  Both were African American.

Henry Boyd owned a manufacturing company. Born into slavery in Kentucky in 1802-1886, craftsman and entrepreneur Henry Boyd became one of the most successful African American businessmen of the 19th century. From 1836 to 1863 his furniture factory in Cincinnati, Ohio supplied hotels and households throughout the South and West with “Boyd’s Bedsteads,” popular for their solid yet easy-to-assemble design. Boyd’s experience illuminates the economic contributions of the black entrepreneurs and their role in the struggle for racial equality.

Garrett Augustus Morgan (1877-1963) worked within and against the racial constraints of his time to build a successful business in Cleveland, Ohio. He patented several inventions, including a firefighting safe hood and a traffic signal, and developed hair-care products for black consumers. To market his inventions, Morgan recruited investors from the black community and formed partnerships with white businessmen. 

He also published a newspaper and was active in organization promoting black social and economic advancement. He died over five decades ago, his contribution to the America’s economy and the black community cannot be over-emphasized.

As I stepped out of the building the lesson learnt really is not about the slavery, which is irreversible but the monuments which are neatly arranged. With over two centuries of history, several generations have come to have a near glimpse of the liberation of African American through perseverance.

 This is far from what we read in the paper or in the work of make believe (the movies). It is the power of visionary leadership of a country that fails to dump everything in the dustbin of history.

Tour Operators Set for Accra Weizo Travel Expo 

Organisers of Accra Weizo travel Exhibition have announced that over 70 tour operators and travel professionals will be attending the 3rd Edition taking place on May 26 and 27.

The tour operators will be hosted to a familiarization trip by Ghana Tourism Authority from May 23 to 25. They will visit the famous Cape Coast of Ghana where GTA has lined up activities to entertain them. Some of the tour operators will also be hosted at Ridge Royal at Cape Coast.

A welcome dinner will be hosted by GTA in Accra after a city tour, while La Palm and Kempinski Hotels will host foreign delegates to cocktails and dinner.

Accra Weizo is targeted at the growing travel business in West Africa and is a sister event of the annual Akwaaba African Travel Market held in Lagos.

Despite being the most populous region in Africa with over 350 million people, West Africa receives the least number of tourists while also generating the highest number of outbound travellers In Africa.

One of the goals of Accra Weizo travel fair is to encourage West Africans to travel within the region and help generate tourism revenue.

Themed “Seamless Travel in West Africa”, this year’s edition will be held over two days. The first day will be a seminar on Aviation while the second day will be dedicated to digital training on the use of social media to grow travel business with portals such as Trip Advisor, Google, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

One hundred leading tourism personalities in West Africa will be honored at Accra Weizo. The list of leading players in the industry includes representation from Senegal, Cape Verde, Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria.

The event is supported by Jedidah Promotions, Africa World Airlines, South Africa Tourism, Medview Airlines, Ridge Royal Hotel Cape Coast, Air Peace, La Palm Royal, Kempinski Hotel, Staple Tours, TOUGHA and atqnews.com.