Reader disclosure: This is a longer opinionated joint-article, highlighting Damon Mackin's and Madsen Thomas's experience from their visit to the Nation Museum of African American History and Culture. *Spoiler Alert* There will be photos of some exhibits in this article.
On March 25, Madsen and myself (Legal Trap Mack) got the chance to travel with a group of students from our university to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Prior to our visit I had a personal obsession with visiting the museum, since last year when I visited the National Museum of American History the exhibit for African American history was smaller exhibit in the corner of the museum. I saw it as a metaphor of how African-Americans have been treated since we were brought to this country. So when I heard they were building a entire museum highlighting African American culture and history, I had to go.
My trip to the African American History and Culture Museum was eye opening. Being Caucasian, I was anxious to go because I knew what I would see would be difficult to take in. Although I certainly do not hold prejudice against another race, I am aware of what happened in regards of the slaving and oppression of African Americans.
If you are given the opportunity to visit this remarkable museum, I highly recommend you take advantage it. There are many shocking and saddening artifacts and information presented within the walls of the museum, but a glimmer of hope can also be provided.
Our visit began in the 1400’s; the start of the transatlantic slave trade. Many people, especially of Damon’s age, and mine appeared to simply glance at the artifacts presented throughout the exhibits. With that being said, we took our time to read the excerpts provided alongside the extensive artifacts. I am extremely happy that we did this because I feel as though I learned so much during my time in the museum. The tour guide informed us that it would take about an hour to get through the “timeline” portion of the museum, however it took Damon and I almost five hours to see everything. Those five hours were well worth it.
Visiting the museum is an experience that I believe everyone, especially people of my race, should undergo. The emotion of embarrassment consumed me while walking through the different exhibits. Embarrassed because of people of my ethnicity destroyed millions of lives, simply because they saw their race as superior. It blows my mind how any individual, let alone an entire group people, could have the mindset that any ethnicity is less than another. It takes pure evil to be able to throw a mass group of humans in a boat, chain them together and treat them like animals for slaughter. As we continued on the journey through time in the museum, we saw and learned about different eras in history. The museum took us from the 1400’s up to present day.
I was excited to enter the portion of the exhibit that focused the Civil Rights Movement, because I am currently writing a unit plans for sixth graders, on the topic. I thought I knew more than I thought about this section in history, but I was wrong. Before visiting the museum, I had a loose grasp on African American History. I would like to attribute this to my schooling growing up. I feel as though my schools, which were predominantly white, did not cover African American history, as they should have.
African Americans have contributed so much and have gone through too much to not be recognized. It’s almost as though people want to erase or shove this part of America’s history under the carpet because of how shameful it is. I think just the opposite. We need to educate people about it. Make the dark history known so that we can better our present and future.
America’s murky past is something everybody needs to acknowledge. If we don’t, how will we be able to progress? For me, the most upsetting part about the museum was the end of the timeline portion. Don’t get me wrong, I loved every minute of every exhibit, but the ending left me hollow. African Americans’ fight for freedom didn’t end with the abolition of slavery, it didn’t end with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and it certainly didn’t end at the end of the Civil Rights Movement. African Americans’ fight is still occurring. It is a shame that any human being has to fight for their freedom, safety, and equality. It is a shame that we cannot treat other human beings with respect.
It is a shame that racism is still alive. But it is up to all present generations in this country to change this. Racism is learned and passed down. Nobody is born racist; it is an unacceptable for us to continue teaching our children and fellow humans that one ethnicity is better than another. Look at the past and learn from it, do not repeat it.
“Be the change you wish to see in the world” - Gandhi
My initial prejudgments prior to going to the museum were all concerning how Madsen would handle all that the exhibits had to offer. I personally knew what I was getting myself into because my mother made it clear that I should know about the history of our race beyond what I was taught in school. While in high-school, I took a couple of advanced placement history classes that focused more on the history of America (past and present day) more than my previous ones. Although I came in with prior knowledge on some parts of African American history, I learned more from the museum than I did in my entire grade school career.
Being that Madsen and I are a interracial couple, I didn't go into this thinking "If she doesn't sympathize with the trails and tribulations my people went through, then this relationship is over"; I really didn't go into the trip thinking much of anything, but how much knowledge we both were going to get from the experience.
My favorite part of the museum was all of it, but if I had to be more specific it was the photography exhibit (of course), and the popular culture exhibit. These two exhibits showed the beauty that came from the struggle, and how the African American people of this country turned water into wine. It gave me a sense of pride for picking up the camera, because I felt that those who came before me were living through me.
Although we spent majority of the time in the timeline exhibit, it made me feel a sense of depression after leaving it: because as Madsen said, we still have a lot of work to do when it comes to equality issues in our country.
This trip added more fuel to my fire, to make sure that a change is made in this country during my lifetime, for those who will come after I am gone. It was pretty cool to experience this with someone who comes from a completely different place than I do, and still feel that we could be doing more than what we have to work towards the change we want to see.
"All the people like us are we, and everyone else is they" - Rudyard Kipling
Damon Mackin. 22 years of age. Mass Communications major at Shenandoah University 18'. Freelance Journalist/Photographer