Washington D.C. is one of those places I’ve never had a particularly strong interest in visiting but I must admit, I had a great time in the capitol city.
Like most big cities, the traffic entering D.C. was horrific. The group I traveled to the capitol with lodged in Chinatown, which was also pretty incredible. Our night of arrival was one of the only times that the streets of D.C. rang of noise and commotion. Throughout my three-day visit, pretty much every area I wandered to was almost completely silent. Big cities usually equate to a ton of people and District of Columbia is no different, but it was soo quiet that it felt unreal. I lived in New York City’s Lower East Side this summer and my ears didn’t receive the pleasure of silence until I left after two months. Though in hindsight, D.C.’s quietness makes a lot of sense because most of the jobs there are corporate, government and policy related. Every city has it’s own vibe and I’ve concluded that D.C.’s vibe is fun but chill.
The highlight of my trip, as many of you may already know from many of my tweets and Instagram photos, was touring the ‘Blacksonian’ (nickname courtesy of Black Twitter). If you’re unaware, the Blacksonian is the National Museum of African-American History and Culture. The Smithsonian museum, located on the National Mall, is the first to fully dedicate itself to the triumphs and accomplishments that not only African-Americans have made in America, but also other Africans in the diaspora have made in the U.S.
The history gallery is three floors, with the main entrance starting at the bottom floor. At the entrance, a projector showed different prominent Black figures with audio to accompany it. A glass elevator took visitors down a few floors. As the elevator descended, walls that began with contemporary years printed on them slowly rewinded time, with “1964” and “1794” until we arrived to the 15th century.
The underground portion of the museum covers about 600 years of history and unfortunately, there’s no possible way I can cover that much ground in one post. Instead I’ve decided to show you all some of my favorite parts of the museum and hopefully encourage you make a trip to D.C. and visit the Blacksonian yourself.
Slavery and Freedom
From the glass elevators visitors are transported to the Middle Passage, where Africans were taken from the continent and brought to the Americas. There were recounts from ship captains and Africans about the horrors of the middle passage. Many Africans would rather die and spiritually return to their homes and families than continue in discomfort to their uncertain futures. To account for the loss of weight, ships used ballast, like the iron ballast in the photo below, to make their ships more stable.
The Era of Segregation
This image stood out to me because I’m from Chicago. It wasn’t until I enrolled in college that I learned why Chicago is so heavily segregated. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Case for Reparations was assigned by one of my theater professors my freshman year. I gained an in-depth understanding of why Chicago’s south and west sides are predominantly populated by Black people and have less resources than the city’s mostly White north side from this article. Racial restrictive covenants were ruled “unconstitutional” in 1948 but if you’ve been to Chicago in recent years you’d see that the demographics of the city haven’t changed much since this ruling—though it’s slightly changing due to gentrification. *major eye roll*
My interest in this section is obvious: journalism! As a Black person it’s disheartening to still see attacks on Black communities in 2016. It’s even more disheartening to hear newsrooms pretend like attacks on minority communities don’t exist while claiming that minority reporters and writers can’t accurately share news on these topics. A major issue in media today is that the people reporting on Black communities do not reflect the people that live there; they are not Black, or of-color at all, so a large perspective is usually missing which leads to inaccuracies and statements that often have gaping holes and don’t provide enough context for non-Black people to understand.
I gain a lot of inspiration from reporters at the Chicago Defender and other Black reporters of this time, Ethel L. Payne being one of my absolute favorites. They were brave enough to expose the racial attacks Black people in America were facing in addition to celebrating Black culture nationwide. I’m so grateful to them for setting a path so that I can report on Black communities and also write about the beautiful cultures that have stemmed from the African diaspora.
A Changing America
Oprah Winfrey is success and it’s as simple as that. Clearly she put in a lot of hard work to achieve success. The museum’s theatre is even named after her, due to a $12 million donation to the museum. The Oprah Winfrey Theater serves as an orientation theater and welcome center for this Smithsonian museum.
The Blacksonian is soo big that I wasn’t able to see it in it’s entirety. I was only able to finish viewing the history galleries, though the galleries were already a lot of ground to cover. The museum also has an inaugural exhibit titled, “A Century in the Making,” in addition to community and culture galleries. I’m most disappointed that I wasn’t able to enjoy delicious eats at the ‘Sweet Home Cafe,’ a food court with traditional food from African-American people in different regions of America. My fingers are crossed that I’ll be able to visit again and see the areas that I missed.
After visiting the National Museum of African-American History and Culture I was reminded that my ancestors fought for my place here. Not all of them lived through their fight. Not all of them fought at all. But through their strength I am here today and no matter what I will continue to break the boundaries and barriers this country has tried so hard to pit against me.
The Blacksonian gave me hope, no matter how small. I hope that it blossoms. I hope that I never loose sight of my past, my present and my future. I hope that I—no, we—are constantly reminded of how communities of color built this country and how communities of color will be pivotal in shifting it.