National Museum Home To Black Heroes And FoesThere's still nearly five years to go before the National Museum of African American History and Culture opens its doors in Washington, D.C. Founding Director Lonnie Bunch shares some of his most recent finds. This time, we learn about some hard-working men from black history — one a hero, and the other a slave trader.
A Slave Trader's Buttons; The Tin Man's Costume; Bo Diddley's Hat
Watercolor Of The Portuguese Slaver Diligente, 1838
Wanted Poster For Runaway Slaves, 1840
Croix De Guerre, 1914-1918The Croix de Guerre was sometimes awarded to American individuals or military units.
Poster Of Huey Newton, Black Panther Minister Of Defense, 1968
Cross Burning In North Carolina; Photo By Jim WallaceIn the early 1960s, University of North Carolina student Jim Wallace, who was not black, photographed a Ku Klux Klan rally and cross burning to document what he thought was a great evil, museum director Lonnie Bunch says.
Ku Klux Klan Rally In North Carolina; Photo By Jim WallaceAs civil rights activists became more organized from 1963-64, opposition activity also increased. "What I think is fascinating is how we've gone, in 50 years, from people being proud of that to recognizing that was one of the darker moments of the American experience," Bunch says.
Lester Maddox's Pickrick Drumstick, c. 1973Lester Maddox was the owner of the Pickrick Cafeteria, which kept a dozen axe handles — "Pickrick Drumsticks," he called them — by the front door. Despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed segregation in public accommodations, Maddox refused to serve African-Americans, running a group of protesters off with a pistol while his son, customers and employees brandished the axe handles. Maddox took to selling axe handles and other "state's rights" souvenirs.
SNCC PromotionAs the civil rights movement gained momentum in 1960, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Formed in North Carolina, SNCC (often pronounced "snick") helped organize the Freedom Rides, voter registration campaigns and the March on Washington. Former member Joan Trumpauer Mulholland participated in several SNCC activities and donated several objects to the museum.
Denim Vest With SNCC ButtonsMulholland joined SNCC in 1960 and served as an office assistant in Mississippi for several years. A button that reads "Never" on the collar of her vest is Bunch's favorite. "That was what segregationists would wear to counter that, to say that you never integrate," Bunch explains. "But what the SNCC people did is they took that button and turned it upside down as a way to protest."
Glass Shards And Shotgun Shell From The 16th Street Baptist Church In Birmingham, Ala.Mulholland gathered these artifacts from the gutter outside the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., during the funeral of three of the girls killed in the 1963 bombing.
J.C. Deagan Chicago Vintage Railroad Dinner Bell ChimesEmployment as a railroad porter was considered one of the most stable and prestigious occupations open to African-Americans during the early- and mid-20th century. This engraved dinner chime was presented as a retirement gift to Leo LaRue, a porter who served executives for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad in the 1960s and '70s. "These folks had their own sense of pride," Bunch says, "and basically captured a sense of what was possible in an environment where they were considered inferior."
John Brown And Frederick Douglas LettersLetters written to his wife while he was visiting Frederick Douglas express John Brown's commitment to abolition, but also his longing to see her and his family. Douglas adds a greeting and reassuring words..
Knights Of The Ku Klux Klan Banner, Early 20th Century The Ku Klux Klan, originally founded in 1865 by veterans of the Confederate Army, was an insurgent group that undertook violent and vigilante activities during Reconstruction. The group faded away in the 1870s, but fueled by glorified images of the Klan in the film Birth of the Nation, was founded again in 1915 as a fraternal organization that developed orders nationwide with local chapters.
Pen Used By Lyndon B. Johnson To Sign The Voting Rights Act Of 1965 The act outlawed educational requirements for voting. Johnson symbolically chose to sign the Voting Rights Bill in the President's Room, just off the Senate chamber, where Abraham Lincoln had signed legislation freeing slaves employed by the Confederacy on Aug. 6, 1861.
Thomas H. Porter Slave Buttons, c. 1820Thomas H. Porter, a slave trader based in Barbados, sold slaves along the coasts of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia and the Carolinas, circa 1815-1830. He attached these buttons to the enslaved person's clothing during auctions.
Maj. Peter L. Robinson, 1917Peter L. Robinson, Sr. (1892-1979) was born in Spotslyvania, Va., one of eight children born to slaves. He got a degree from Miner Normal School and a law degree from Howard University in 1924. He was commissioned as a first lieutenant in 1917, assigned to Camp Meade and later was a major in the Reserves. Robinson taught in Washington, D.C., schools for 40 years.
WWI Binoculars Of Peter L. Robinson Sr.Robinson saw action in France from 1918-1919.
Peter L. Robinson Sr.'s Steel Helmet From WWIRobinson was promoted to major during his tenure with the U.S. Army Reserves.
Tin Man Headdress From The Broadway Production Of 'The Wiz,' 1975As part of the Black Fashion Museum Collection, the museum acquired costumes that were designed by Geoffrey Holder for the Broadway musical The Wiz. Featuring an all-black cast, it put a modern twist on The Wizard of Oz.
Bo Diddley's HatBo Diddley was born in McComb, Miss., in 1928 and became one of rock music's principal architects in the 1950s.
Harriet Tubman's Signed Hymnal"This is one of the great treasures of the museum," Bunch says. One of the ways Tubman signaled slaves was by singing hymns. "So she'd sing 'Steal Away to Jesus' or 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,' and you would know it's time to go. And so to be able to have a hymnal that has those songs in it that was hers is just pretty amazing."
A Sign From Lallie Kemp Charity Hospital In Independence, La.Another museum piece once belonged to the Lallie Kemp Charity Hospital in Independence, La. It's a carefully hand-lettered sign that tells the days colored residents could come in for medical services and when whites could receive service.
A Bill Of Sale For A Slave Named PollyThis is the original receipt for a 16-year-old Negro girl named Polly, who was sold for $600 as a slave. "What really hits me about this document is it starkly reminds us that these people were considered property," Bunch says. "Suddenly you realize that this paper really is a way into the story of this woman's life."
Child's PortraitMost images of African-Americans in the early 20th century are portraits of poverty. Bunch came across a remarkable collection of "cabinet cards" — portraits of middle-class blacks who were otherwise "invisible to most people."
Cassius Clay's (Muhammad Ali's) Head ProtectorThis is an Everlast head protector from the 5th Street Gym in Miami, where Clay trained for his first fight with Sonny Liston. "As soon as he defeated Sonny Liston, he announced that he became a member of the Nation of Islam, became Muhammad Ali," Bunch says.
Michael Jackson's Victory Tour Black FedoraInside the hat is a black leather band stamped "By Maddest Hatter ... Made expressly for Michael Jackson ... 100 percent genuine fur." The hat was caught by an audience member attending the July 31, 1984, Jackson concert at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
Leg ShacklesThese slave shackles were likely crafted in Africa rather than Europe because they are relatively cumbersome to close and open. Europeans would have instead closed shackles with a padlock. The size of the shackle loops indicates they were used on legs rather than arms.
But to Lonnie Bunch it feels more like five days. As the founding director of the museum, he's crossing the country and the seas to build the collection for the museum.
Yet from time to time, he still finds a few minutes to tell NPR's Guy Raz about his latest discoveries. This time, we learn about some hard-working men from black history — one a hero, and the other a slave trader.
GUY RAZ, host:
Five years from now, the Smithsonian will open its newest museum on the National Mall, right in the shadow of the Washington Monument. It's called the National Museum of African American History and Culture. And for the past several months on this program, we've been given a regular pre-opening preview.
Every few weeks, Lonnie Bunch, the museum's founding director, shows us some new artifacts, things that he's gathered for the permanent collection, things like Michael Jackson's fedora or Harriet Tubman's personal hymnal. He brought original shackles worn by slaves during the Middle Passage. And now these.
Dr. LONNIE BUNCH: (Founding Director, National Museum of African American History and Culture): Let's start with the smallest object, the buttons.
RAZ: Buttons, all right. So there are - I see four buttons, metal buttons in, obviously in plastic bags. And they're all - they all look like they have a T and a P on them. And...
Dr. BUNCH: Yes. What I love about these are these are pewter and copper alloy buttons, and we've all seen buttons like this. But from these little buttons, what a story you tell.
The initials are for Thomas Porter. Thomas Porter was a person who sold slaves. And whenever he would sell slaves, he would either dress them in a particular uniform or put this button on their clothes so people would know it's a Thomas Porter slave.
What's so powerful about it is that this tells us the story of the domestic slave trade. We talked for days about the international slave trade in the Middle Passage...
Dr. BUNCH: ...but we forget that really almost from the inception of enslavement in the United States, through the Civil War, the largest number of people were moved via the domestic slave trade.
RAZ: In other words from state to state, obviously mostly in the South.
Dr. BUNCH: Well, sometimes from the north in the colonial period. But what I think is so powerful about it is that the domestic slave trade is one of the reasons why the South was so dependent on slavery is that they invested so much money buying these slaves that it almost was impossible for them to move away from the system of slavery.
But also, I think in some ways, it's a domestic slave trade that, for African-Americans, was the most powerful, was the most frightening.
RAZ: Incredible. And incredible to imagine where we're talking 150, 160 years ago, not that long.
Dr. BUNCH: It's not that long ago at all.
RAZ: So I see there is something obscured by a piece of paper. And I've been curious about this because I just see the bottom of it, and it looks like the head of a mannequin or something, and I'm really curious to know what that is.
Dr. BUNCH: One of the things that's so important to us is to realize that we want to tell the full story of the African-American experience. And we want to talk a lot about culture. This is the costume of a Tin Man from "The Wiz" in Broadway...
RAZ: From "The Wiz," right.
Dr. BUNCH: ...which was on Broadway from 1975 to 1979.
RAZ: Right. We obviously think of Diana Ross and Michael Jackson when we think of "The Wiz," or at least I do. And looking at this, the Tin Man, you just see the tight coils of metal for his hair and the sense of mesh, sort of refuse used for his ears. It's amazing. What kind of impact did "The Wiz" have on black theater?
Dr. BUNCH: Well, I think it had a huge impact on Broadway generally. On the one hand, it opened the ways for a new generation of African-American actors to perform. You begin to see a whole array of other shows, "Bubbling Brown Sugar" about Duke Ellington. So you see Broadway recognizing that there were shows about African-American culture that were critically successful and could be popular as well. So "The Wiz" opened the doors to do just that.
RAZ: I suspect this will be a popular exhibit at the museum.
Dr. BUNCH: I would hope so because I want to make sure that when people come in, they have those moments to see the great creativity that comes out of this community.
RAZ: And, Lonnie, I should remind folks listening to this conversation that all of these artifacts we're talking about can be seen at our website, npr.org.
So finally, Lonnie, there is a hat that I'm looking at, and I know that in the past, we've had some pretty amazing headgear. We've had Michael Jackson's fedora. We've had Cassius Clay, Muhammad Ali's boxing helmet. And now we have?
Dr. BUNCH: And now we have Bo Diddley's classic trademark hat. And, you know, while I don't want to be the museum of hats, it is important to be able to sort of capture things that identify somebody. And Bo Diddley, that amazing musician who really is in all the halls of fame, but who really was that transitional figure from blues to rock 'n' roll, and, you know, his classic hat, and his square guitar.
RAZ: And that hat is so iconic. I mean, you can imagine him there with his guitar, in that hat, and it's just it's such a presence. It's just - it's who he is.
Dr. BUNCH: One of the things we'd like to be able to do is to help the public sort of understand both the music, the joy of the music, but also what it tells us about somebody raised in the South, coming into Chicago, basically trying to find a way to make a living.
You know, he was a carpenter and a plumber, but he found that sound, that sound which really was a kind of Southern sound brought to the cities that eventually shaped almost all the major guitars in rock 'n' roll.
RAZ: That's Lonnie Bunch. He's a founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. That museum is scheduled to open on the National Mall here in Washington, D.C. in 2015.
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