Saturday, December 31, 2016

Telling the Story - NMAAHC

There are parts of our history that are too painful to tell but must be told so that younger generations can have a sense of who they are, where they're going and how they got here. In the Bible, the oral tradition was established; the Israelites told their stories every year of their exodus from Egypt at Passover.
The recitation of the Haggadah, a liturgy that describes in detail the story of the Exodus from Egypt. The Haggadah is the fulfillment of the biblical obligation to recount to our children the story of the Exodus on the night of Passover.
In addition, they had items of significance in everyday living so that when a child asked, "What do these stones mean?" they could tell the story again. They could point to the stones as a memorial of how God delivered them over and over again. The stories remained fresh because they were always told.

The African American story hasn't always been told in depth, but with this museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) there's an opportunity for the story to be told to a broad audience with authenticity. The fact that this museum exists on a national scale is a story in itself as it was a long winding arduous road to NMAAHC.

The layout of the museum is such that you start from the bottom and work your way up - literally and figuratively. You start from slavery and travel to modern times. Slavery is a difficult truth and the facial expressions of patrons indicated such - no smiles, all twisted faces, pained expressions, brooding thoughts and maybe some tears. I personally wished that there was a weeping room, so I could just sit and cry. I'm still baffled by how a slave owner could rape his slaves, produce his children and could only see them as profit. Slavery was a time when the heart was turned to stone.

Jim Crow and Reconstruction took up another floor. Again, very painful. I saw a segregated train car and also Emmit Till's open casket. (BTW no pictures are allowed of the casket; if you get caught doing so you will be escorted out).

Then it was up to the Civil Rights Movement; I was particularly moved by the "Women of the Movement and learning about Gloria Richardson - who by all accounts seemed fearless because the injustices against her and her people were so wrong.

At this point, we broke for lunch at the Sweet Home Cafe. Cuisines are divided up by regions - The Agricultural South, The Creole Coast, The North States and The Western Range. I had the stuffed Rainbow Trout with Potato Salad from the North States and it was pretty good, though at that point I'm convinced anything would have tasted good as we were all starving at this point in time. This is part of the experience, so though a bit pricey it's worth it to eat at the cafe.

With more energy, the rest of the museum is more uplifting. The upper floors highlight African Americans' contributions to all aspects of society - music, dance, poetry, sports, style, language. I also took in a movie exhibit that asked the question - "What does it mean to be a Black Man?" The vignettes in response were poignant.

Some logistical items to consider - we were able to get tickets by getting walk-up tickets that are distributed daily as we had no luck getting tickets online. I parked at L'Enfant Plaza and paid $20.00 for the entire day. Then from the parking structure, it was about a 10-minute walk to the museum.

The stories of our histories need to be told; everyone should visit this museum so that the appetite is heightened for greater knowledge of the African American experience. I hope as families we share our histories openly and perhaps this museum can become a rite of passage for all. I was saddened and inspired by my visit and was glad that I got to go.

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