African American fight for freedom on dispaly at civil rights exhibit – The Washington Post

December 15, 2012

Arts & Culture

[I like this essay but beyond my personal feelings about it, I’ve highlighted two portions I particularly like because of its relevance to one refrain that has run through my essays over the years:  that Nigerians’ penchant for building their hopes on prayers to God to help drive looting and uncaring leaders away will mostly come to naught.  One, God has given all humans brains with which to think and analyze our problems so that we can find solutions to them.  We will be the ones to save ourselves or else, pardon me, we are doomed.  The looting, is like cancer and not only spreads but changes its form with each successive political new class. 

Two derives from One: nobody, as I’ve often said, GIVES you freedom.  I’ve gone as far as to break the idea of ‘freedom’ down into my mother tongue, Yoruba which says ‘GBA OMINIRA’ – TAKE FREEDOM. 

My Nigerian readers should, therefore, read this essay, especially digesting the two highlighted portions.  TOLA.]


Smithsonian examines progression of rights from 1863 to 1963

The Washington Post

December 14, 2012.

Beyond the unifying symmetry of the numbers, what binds and animates the new “Changing America: The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863, and the March on Washington, 1963” exhibit at the Smithsonian’s Museum of African American History and Culture gallery is the great press of American people toward freedom.

It is a constant, relentless force before, during and after these iconic moments in history, with a sweep that is nationally momentous and deeply personal. It winds between the artifacts, giving them weight and suasion.

The gallery, inside the American History Museum, divides into two sides and organizes around a quote from labor and civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph: “Freedom is never given, it is won.”

To the left of the quote is the distant history of slavery and the Emancipation Proclamation, to the right is recent history, the March on Washington, such that visitors who were there will look to try to find their faces.

“Looking at these two moments in time, these two kinds of struggles for inclusion, freedom and participation, you see more than 100 years,” said Harry R. Rubenstein, co-curator of the exhibition. “You see the history of the nation.”

The Emancipation Proclamation side of the exhibition begins with slavery. “Enslaved people were valued at an estimated $2.7billion in 1860,” reads a panel, and the nation protected its treasure with violence. There is a slave whip and an auction notice for a family of six. A pair of iron shackles for a small child conjures such a horror that co-curator Nancy Bercaw catches her breath as she talks about it.

Slaves resisted with acts of defiance. In 1831, Nat Turner’s rebellion killed 55 whites in Southampton County, Va., and the exhibit displays the Bible he was holding when he was captured. A handbill offers a $100 reward for a runaway slave in Maryland: “My negro man named Dick, commonly called Richard Law, ran away from my residence in Upper Marlborough, Prince George’s County on the morning of the 18th of July.”

African American History and Culture Museum Director Lonnie G. Bunch III calls the large “Contraband Tent” among his favorite artifacts. These tents housed the tens of thousands of “self-emancipated” slaves who escaped to the Union lines as soon as the war began and proclaimed themselves free, forcing Lincoln and the Union into action — to return them to slavery or recognize them as free.

as free.

“They said, ‘I ain’t waiting for you,'” Bunch said. While “it’s crucially important to celebrate Lincoln as the man who said ‘forever free,’ the slaves weren’t passive recipients of freedom,” but they instead agitated, prodded and were central to it. “That’s what I want to get across.”

President Abraham Lincoln’s black broadcloth coat, vest and trousers are displayed, along with the top hat he wore the night he was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre. The exhibit also features the lone copy of Lincoln’s handwritten 13th Amendment ending slavery in the United States. Medals and ID tags of black soldiers, the pen used by Ulysses S. Grant to sign the 15th Amendment, which guaranteed the right of black men to vote, exist along a continuum that includes poll taxes, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and other racist retrenchments.

It is part of the constant contradiction of American history that leads visitors toward the March on Washington section on the other side of the gallery, several feet away.

Beginning with the dedication in 1922, the Lincoln Memorial became the national staging ground for civil rights protests. These include the 1939 Easter concert by Marian Anderson after the singer was barred from singing in Constitution Hall.

The 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom marking the third anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision desegregating schools was a training ground for leaders of the 1963 march, including Randolph, Bayard Rustin, Roy Wilkins and Martin Luther King Jr.

Images on the walls show a montage of demonstrations and events in 1963 leading up to the march — including Gov. George C. Wallace barring the doors to the University of Alabama, the funeral of slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers. There were more than 1,000 demonstrations and events.

A budget includes the salary for Rustin, arguably the most-important, least-known civil rights figure, who was tasked with logistics for the 1963 March on Washington: “10 weeks @135/week.”

Schedules, bus fliers and maps help detail the movement of an estimated 250,000 people onto the grounds of the Lincoln Memorial. Black singers Anderson, Mahalia Jackson and Odetta were joined by white folk singers, including Joan Baez, who sings “we are not afraid” on grainy black-and-white video from the day. Baez’s guitar is displayed, along with a list of the Hollywood delegation to the march, co-chaired by Charlton Heston. Stars who came included Burt Lancaster, Judy Garland, Kirk Douglas and Marlon Brando.

Buttons, programs, maps and pennants provide the slogans and assertions of people who voted with their feet. Who had shown up, amassed and demanded equal everything, “Now!”

A simple pocket watch inscribed “From Martin to Bayard for Aug. 28, 1963” helps memorialize the day. As does an inscription from writer James Baldwin: “That day, for a moment, it almost seemed that we stood on a height, and could see our inheritance.”

The exhibit featuring two moments of American history is separated by 100 years and by a small lobby area filled with quotes and statistics and faces. It offers visitors time to pause and reflect before continuing on in the great, unending American press toward freedom.

PS.  The Exhibition is already on and runs from now till September 2013, plenty of time for those of us who move around quite some and those who live near The Smithsonian – so to say – anywhere in the U.S.A.

If you can go:

· “Changing America: The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863, and the March on Washington, 1963” runs through Sept. 15 at the National Museum of African American History and Culture Gallery at the National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C. Learn more at (202) 633-1000

From Civil War to MLK, a History of Black Freedom


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5 Comments on “African American fight for freedom on dispaly at civil rights exhibit – The Washington Post”

  1. emotan77 Says:

    From my Mail Box:

    Dear Tola,

    Many thanks for this gripping piece from nation that cherishes its history and has many true patriots. The prayer Nigerian masses, especially Christians should be praying is that God should empower us to be the answer to our prayers. Jesus said, “watch and pray.”




  2. Fatai Bakare Says:

    I agree with you 100% on the two things you raised – prayers and freedom as applied to our situation in Nigeria. Before, I use an African country that we should emulate in the country, let me use a simple correlation of prayer to the rudiments of writing and passing an examination. A student who does not attend lectures, does not do or hands in assignments and does not read to prepare adequately well to write the exam but chooses to pray in the mosque or church all day and night, has already chosen failure even if it is his mum that will mark his papers. He will fail with honours. If his prayers are answered, that would indicate partiality on the part of God which would not encourage hard work. It is almost akin to committing evils and sins and praying to God to make one enter the Kingdom of Heaven on the last day.

    Now, we cannot have freedom on a platter of gold. We have to fight and if the worst happens, we suffer for it. We have Egypt to emulate. They did it one time to force out Mubarak, and now they are at it again to reject dictatorship. In Nigeria, we do not wish the violence that would leadi to large scale loss of lives. The Egyptians show doggedness, perseverance, commitment, resilience and determination to achieve their aims. Kudos to the armed forces there for not allowing themselves to be used by the politicians. I hope they keep this up. Examples are also in Libya and Syria though with loss of so many innocent lives.

    Back to Nigeria, we cannot eat our cake and have it. We have to brace up to free ourselves from the clutches of these corrupt politicians. We cannot expect to ever enjoy without fighting for it. Even our forefathers fought the British (not physical though) to gain independence for the country. If they had sat down and prayed days on end in churches and mosques, we would not have been granted independence because the British have always been adept at manipulation to prolong their hold. Though there is power in prayers however ”igbagbo laisi ise, asan ni” (faith without work is naught). Heaven helps those who help themselves. Let us stand up against the devilish politicians and leave the rest to God. ‘‘Mi o le wa ku, ko le joye ile baba re”- if you don’t want to die – figuratively – then you cannot lay claim to your inheritance.

    Personally, I do not have faith in the Workers Union because the leadership will sell us out at the last moment. If the last demonstration in January against oil subsidy removal was not terminated prematurely, the Federal Government would have been brought down to its knees. The Social Critics and Activists should not be tired and must come out to lead the onslaught against the government. We cannot afford to wait till 2015; the campaign should be going on now against accepting paltry sums of money from these politicians to mortgage our future and that of our children. We should not sell out our consciences again. Enough is enough.




  1. US civil rights singer Odetta dies | Dear Kitty. Some blog - December 25, 2012

    […] African American fight for freedom on dispaly at civil rights exhibit – The Washington Post ( […]


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