My Experience at the
National Museum of African American History & Culture
By Carrisa Anderson
U.S. History was a course that I dreaded in high school. Besides the fact that I had a monotone teacher who could never keep the class awake, l was not learning about my history. Sure, we learned about historical figures such as George Washington and Paul Revere, and topics ranging from the Boston Tea Party to the Great Depression, but African-American history was never mentioned except in a vague and obscure way, but somehow this course was supposed to highlight U.S History as a whole. Don’t get me wrong, of course we touched on Civil Rights Activists such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, but that was it. I would flip through the pages of the textbook and see illustrations that severely lacked diversity. I wasn’t learning about black history pioneer Carter Godwin Woodson or Ruby Bridges the brave little girl who paved the way for desegregated schools. My black history was purposely left out. I felt as though I could not fully relate to the conversation that was going on because I could not see myself through the countless pages of the textbooks. U.S. history is very diverse and different, and a variety of people contributed to what this nation is today.
Fast forward to me now being a senior in college where I am just now learning in depth about my black history. Due to the lack of African American history coverage in the classrooms and the black historical figures that are somehow forgotten about in the textbooks, I have to take it upon myself to attend events to educate myself on the people who had a hand in shaping the advancement of black people. I feel that it has become my duty to find myself and know who I am from my own understanding. I am a black woman, and women like myself cannot be contained. I am also yearning to know my heritage, and I think that is what makes a culture stronger when they have a proper sense of who they are.
When I found out the Intercultural Engagement and Inclusion office was hosting a trip to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, I knew I had to attend. I was amazed to learn that there was an entire museum dedicated to the past and present history of black leaders who fought for black lives. I was also taken aback by the journey my people have led and how we have remained fearless in pain and great disservice.
Myself and about 40 other students, faculty, and administrators woke up early Tuesday morning to take a 4-hour trip to Washington, DC. When we arrived at our destination, we were amazed at the beautiful architecture of the museum and the placement across the Washington Monument. Walking through the museum felt as if we were put in a time machine and taken back in time to the year 1619, when Africans were first brought to America. We learned when Africans were forced out of their countries into a world of abuse and cruelty that changed lives forever. It was pure silence as museum goers slowly walked around taking in as much information as they could. For the auditory learners, there were videos displayed in almost every section to provide a motion picture of the events of slavery. Following the capture of slaves, you were then taken through the stories of Africans who escaped slavery like Mahommah Baquaqua, a man born in Benin and later sold into slavery in Brazil. Baquaqua was later brought to New York where he escaped to freedom and later documented the horrors of slavery.
The museum next took us through the civil war and the prominent role that slaves played in fighting for a country that didn’t see them as humans. As we continued to walk up the different levels, we walked through the stages of Brown vs. Board of Education when segregation was ruled unconstitutional, and the emergence of the Black Panther Party. There was an entire section that highlighted black excellence and how black culture has influenced the arts.
Not only does the museum highlight historical figures and events, but it also features a cafe that showcases the culture and history of authentic past and present-day African American food traditions. I indulged in the Agricultural South menu that consisted of Buttermilk Fried Chicken with a choice of two sides. I felt right at home as I devoured the delicious fried chicken and collard greens that reminded me of a soul food supper.
I encourage everyone to visit the National Museum of African American History. You can finally have the opportunity to learn about African American history that is purposely excluded from our classrooms and textbooks. Learn about the hardship that blacks have overcome and the justice that we continue to fight for today. This visit strongly affected me because I could finally see myself in art and history, from kinky-haired women like myself to wide-hipped women who embraced their body with such pride. I was healed, and my resurrection into a stronger black women was glorious and beautiful.
|The author, standing second from right, along with other students who visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture on February 21, 2017.|