OP/ED: My Lord! What a Morning! African-Americans see Federal Recognition Come to Fruition in Museum on the Mall
The day was perfect, not a cloud in the sky. Dignitaries of every stripe were in attendance, including former presidents, and first ladies, our current president, and government high-fliers seated before the monumental museum. The daughter of a slave rang the bell, echoed by bells throughout the capitol, and the country. Last weekend, the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture officially opened its doors!
The Obamas shed tears. Members of the audience did too. I, watching the live stream from home, got something in my eye too! But why? To me the opening of the federal museum represented the acceptance, beyond contention, of the lives, contributions, importance, value, and inarguable treasure of African-Americans were, and continue to be to this nation. Despite the ongoing maltreatment, and hate we continue to face to this day.
In a compelling, emotional speech, President Obama said, “And so this national museum helps to tell a richer and fuller story of who we are. It helps us better understand the lives, yes of the president, but also the slave, the industrialist but also the porter, the keeper of the status quo but also the optimist seeking to overthrow that status quo, the teacher, or the cook, alongside the statesman.
“And by knowing this other story, we better understand ourselves and each other. It binds us together. It reaffirms that all of us are American, that African-American history is not somehow separate from our larger American story, it’s not the underside of the American story.”
Once upon a time, according to www.aaregistry.org, there was something in our region called the “Three-Fifths Compromise”. “Southerners demanded that Blacks be counted with whites. The compromise clearly reflected the strength of the pro-slavery forces at the convention. The “Three-fifths Compromise” allowed a state to count three fifths of each Black person in determining political representation in the House.”
Three-fifths of a person. We were not considered to each be a whole person. For political expediency, rather than having us be counted as zero, we were fractionalized to benefit the powers that were. This past Saturday, September 24, 2016, it was made clear that our portioned selves had, at last, been made whole. Forever.
The Los Angeles times, in an interview with Museum Director, Lonnie Bunch, quotes him as saying, "I don't think there is a story or subject that we won't touch," Bunch said. "It's a question of how you do it. Our job is not to force-feed people but to help them understand the [historic] context and bring real knowledge to the debate."
Between the tears of today’s legitimization, I. as a black man living in the south, was reminded of the gravitas of one of America’s greatest literary figures, and his “I, Too”, which is displayed at the facility. According to Smithsonian historian, David C. Ward in his piece entitled “What Langston Hughes’ Powerful Poem “I, Too" Tells Us About America's Past and Present” on SMITHSONIAN.COM,
“The poem is a singularly significant affirmation of the museum’s mission to tell the history of United States through the lens of the African-American experience. It embodies that history at a particular point in the early 20th century when Jim Crow laws throughout the South enforced racial segregation; and argues against those who would deny that importance—and that presence.
Langston Hughes, 1902 - 1967
"I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,"
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed--
I, too, am America."
From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Knopf and Vintage Books. Copyright © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes.
Yet, there is a personal connection for me, and my family, and The Shreveport Sun, to this sacred time capsule of the African-American journey. More than 100 years in the making. The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture opened its doors to international fanfare.
I am so humbled that my uncle, Robert "Bob" Hicks, is included among the pantheon of people who had an impact and influence on America, African-Americans, Civil Rights, and equality in this country. His work with the Deacons for Defense and Justice, his armed resistance against the KKK (in protection of the vulnerable in his community--- when the police stood mum) has been preserved.
If all people know is limited to what they THINK they know about African-Americans (and just what pundits, and surrogates SAY about us), it would behoove them to visit the long-awaited Smithsonian facility, and learn about the effervescent tapestry of influencers who have ALSO helped to make America great.
I have witnessed, first hand, the tireless effort of his wife, Auntie Valeria, and Daughter, cousin Barbara Hicks Collins, his sons Charles, Darryl, Gregory, and Robert, and the rest of the family have, and continue to, endure in assuring the legacy of this giant of a common, courageous, intelligent, generous, righteous, strategic man are kept alive for posterity via the foundation in his name.
Similar to the Muslims who make an annual, mandatory, pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, for the Haaj, it should be equally important to African-Americans to visit, encounter, and support our honorable, international, home.
They are sold out through November. Tickets are free to this national site, but MUST be reserved in advance. Visit their website to order your free passes.