By Derrick Miller
Reason to visit: If Harriet Tubman got her face on US$20, would her image trigger any curiosity?
Let us imagine January 16, 1865, Union General William T. Sherman issued a Special Field Order No 15 according to historians called “40 acres and a mule.” It was the first form of reparation for families after the abolition of slavery to build their lives.
Since that promise, there are other key moments, and milestones:
Emmett Till, an African-American teenager lynched in Mississippi at the age of 14, in 1955, and later Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger.
Ruby Nell Bridges Hall, the first black child to desegregate an all-white school in 1960.
August 28, 1963, Washington, DC, Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and Bloody Sunday 1965 march for voting rights.
These few staples of black history events that offer a better understanding of race relations in the US, and what led to today’s civil rights laws; sadly, to some later arrivals to these shores with a boarding pass in business and first class, this history means nothing, and to be honest, many do not care.
Is it a failure of black leadership today?
For me, the iconic photo of a five-year-old black boy who asked to touch President Obama’s hair to know if his hair was as his is a sign of hope.
For a while though, it seemed as if this history has been lost on a railroad track, buried in swamplands, overshadowed by black on black violence, driven by like an uninhabited house, or tucked away in the back of the libraries, missing a hashtag on social media, to be replaced with ignorance from generation to generation.
Fortunately, the National Museum of African-American History and Culture (NMAAHC) exhumed that history on September 24, 2016.
Sitting on less than 40 acres in the nation’s capital, you will not find a mule, but an evolution track, celebration and accomplishments of the African-American experience.
Since opened, as reported, over 800,000 people have attended from all shades of life.
The sights and sounds on display are sacrifices I believe comparative literary analysis alone could not tell this story. Your skin shade, modernization, or colonization process whether Afro-Caribbean, African, Asians, Indians, or Europeans should not become a barrier to visit.
It honors, recognizes and connects descendants of a once shackled people delivered like barrels, where few were dropped-off along the US, Caribbean, and Latin America coastlines.
Sure, there are inconveniences from parking to passes taken in minutes, or few who staying away due long lines or their own disconnect and struggles with acculturation.
Others found themselves too pre-occupied to continue measuring their accomplishments through educational advancement, job titles, even working two jobs as an excuse not to visit.
These disconnected vessels only abolish sacrifices fought for by social reformers, abolitionists and others who gave their lives for someone else’s American dream.
It took me an hour circling the area to find free parking in a comfortable vehicle. This does not compare to long hours many spent marching outside in worse weather to make this trip possible.
The disconnect vessel: The museum is beyond 28 days in February before hibernation like a polar bear in winter after the ceremonies, the cold cultural disconnect still blows through the air.
Especially Afro-Caribbean people, or Caribbean people as they like to be called, socially and economically have contributed in restructuring many industrialized nations.
This building is a personal, political, economic connection to this dark period and a brighter future.
Some of leaders being displayed are also descendants of the Caribbean slave ships, and their struggles are also woven in its walls.
Although Jamaican-born Marcus Garvey or Trinidad-born Stokely Carmichael might not be the main attraction, their fight was not only for Caribbean people, but civil rights for all.
Henry Louis ‘Skip’ Gates Jr., an American literary critic, teacher, historian and others have invested time and resources to preserve and connect this history.
However, cultural identity complexities, distrust, xenophobia still anchor many states, cities, towns and counties inside this shade.
Connecting history is more than quick DNA swabs of the mouth to be tested for connection, then wear African attire, but still refuse to engage.
Even the same cover-girl makeup being worn, or dancing to the same music beats from doo-wop to jazz, reggae, or calypso does not meant instant connection.
Often a cultural dress being worn or a thick foreign accent creates an instant prism of ethnic identity.
Pop singer superstar Rihanna’s domestic violence abuse case after she was assaulted by her boyfriend, Chris Brown, became a them vs. us mentality on social media.
She was called the girl from Barbados but a woman being punched in Barbados hurts just as one in Boston.
Cultural integration and inter-ethnic relationships and marriages have helped in understanding the cultures, but beneath these shades social stratification still exists and that has contributed to some seeing the museum as another building downtown.
Pre-determinism philosophy continues to separate people. Assumptions continue to be formed based on bad events and negative images portrayed before many arrived on these shores often creates a rough tide in these communities even when they have fled abuse, neglect, exploitation, discrimination, and poverty.
Self-inflicted wounds also create hesitation, and the lack of exposure equally undermines the African-American contribution and hidden economic strength.
Today polarization and barbaric ideology are creating more division, but people will continue to migrate.
A UN report noted that over 190 million people worldwide were living outside of their countries of births a decade ago, and that number has increased since.
Only engagement can change course: Maybe that migrant daycare provider who no longer cares to watch Sesame Street, a popular kid’s show, because they are now featuring episodes with hip hop.
The symposium call in Washington, DC, with Ethiopians and few African Americans to bridge social gaps and gain understanding. I believe a visit by all to the museum could be a great starting point.
What about Eritreans?
They too have ongoing internal conflicts with Ethiopians and they are considered one people?
A few Caribbean islands could use a symposium.
What if that woman who keeps your offices neat is asked if she and her family would like a ticket to the museum?
Maybe an image from Lima, Peru, can be changed, where the role of pallbearers seems only reserved for blacks, simply because of their skin color.
And can these drifting ships be anchored if an African American is surprised to that someone born in Africa worships the same god, and reads from the same bible?
The concerns over African American cities losing their chocolate flavor, and the new shades or generation arriving to these newly refurbished cities, and might still believe Frederick Douglas, who died in 1895, an abolitionist, and statesman after escaping slavery is on Twitter .
For some, Facebook likes are more important than that historic house that is now a coffee shop. Moreover, that sixth generation who once lived in that house can no longer afford a room on the same block
Is it gentrification?
The track ahead: How does society preserve history if some of today’s leaders need a listening tour every February during Black History Month to learn about their contributions despite a few birthplace and education developments were in the same towns and cities of a dark period.
The nation’s capital entertains people from all lifestyles that epitomize the “melting pot”.
When black history inside classrooms drifts, it is like depression, adolescent turmoil, or bullying. If overlooked, it only creates hypersensitive feelings not to engage later.
As a student of history, African-American art is not how expensive it looks, but what it represents and the connection beyond its current frames.
Those who sat, marched, beaten and died, made difficult choices, some uses sports and education to claim their importance today.
The funds donated from $20 to 30 million to revive this history are beyond black white, Hispanic, women, men, and those who donated their time.
The decision by former President George W. Bush who approved the building site, only laid one of the first tracks.
Google images alone cannot take you there to feel it.
Getting there is a start to make sure that this experience stays fresh for that mule to come.
So, please take your culture, values and customs there to continue the road ahead that will hopefully eventually connect everyone.