New Finds For The African American Museum

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  • Watercolor Of The Portuguese Slaver Diligente, 1838
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    Watercolor Of The Portuguese Slaver Diligente, 1838
  • Wanted Poster For Runaway Slaves, 1840
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    Wanted Poster For Runaway Slaves, 1840
  • Croix De Guerre, 1914-1918The Croix de Guerre was sometimes awarded to American individuals or military units.
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    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
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    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.
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    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.
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    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 whi...
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    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 mus...
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    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 dow...
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    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.
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    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 ...
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    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..
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    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 ...
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    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.
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    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.
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    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.
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    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.
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    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.
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    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.
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    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.
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    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."
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    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.
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    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."
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    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."
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    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.
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    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.
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    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.
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    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.

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There's a new museum going up in Washington, D.C., and although its doors won't open until 2015, every few months here on weekends on All Things Considered, we get an early peek at the collection that's taking shape.

The Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture will stand just a few hundred feet from the Washington Monument, making it the newest museum on the National Mall.

Recently, host Guy Raz sat down with the museum's director, Lonnie Bunch, to see some of latest things he's collected from around the world. This time he started by showing off a 19th-century watercolor painting of a slave ship on its way to America.

GUY RAZ, host: Here in Washington, there's a new museum going up. And although its doors won't open until 2015, every few months here on WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, we get an early peek at the collection that's starting to take shape.

The Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture will stand just a few hundred feet from the Washington Monument, making it the newest museum on the National Mall.

I sat down with the museum's director, Lonnie Bunch, a few days ago to see some of the latest things he's collected from around the world. And he started by showing me a painting, a 19th century watercolor of a slave ship on its way to America.

LONNIE BUNCH: This is the Portuguese ship, the Diligente. And the Diligente was a ship with over 400 enslaved people. And what is wonderful about this is that one of the officers actually did this watercolor. That gives us a real look at what it was like for many of those who were enslaved on that ship.

I mean, if you look at it carefully, it's a picture of a ship, it's full sail, but what's really powerful is that there are probably 120 Africans on deck. And if you look carefully at it, you can see the condition of the Africans. Many you can see their ribs, they're malnourished. You can also see some of the sailors actually throwing an African body overboard. Talks about death and the like. So, I mean, I think in some ways, this is really one of the images that people haven't seen that really gives us a real understand, different than the kind of traditional image we see of people just being, you know, packed spoon-fashion in a ship.

RAZ: Yeah. What an incredible piece. Next up, I think that you have - I think this is a poster that we're about to see. And...

BUNCH: What we have is a reward poster that talks about three or four slaves who ran away in Kentucky and that there's $1,000 reward for them. What is so powerful, though, is that it really tells us a lot about who these people are. If you look at it, it says: We're in search of George, who is 22 or 23 years old. He's 5'7" or 8. His color, he's a dark black. He has a long, what they call a double head, had a variety of clothing, including a green frock coat, black velvet collar. And I love this, a low-crowned, white silk hat.

So in some ways, while this speaks volumes about the desire for African-Americans to gain their freedom in the number that ran away during the entire period of enslavement, it also is a way to understand the kind of clothing, the treatment. Often - these often say things like, the runaway had a scar. So they're really a great resource for scholars as we begin to understand what it was like to be enslaved and what it was like to run away.

RAZ: A thousand dollar reward. That's a lot of money...

BUNCH: That's a lot of money.

RAZ: ...in 1840.

BUNCH: So that tells you that what - at least George and Jefferson were good farm hands because they had to be highly skilled to bring that kind of reward back.

RAZ: And, Lonnie, I should just remind folks listening at home that all of these things we're looking at, they can see right now at our website, npr.org. We posted images of all these artifacts online. And your colleagues are bringing looks like a kind of a - well, it looks old, but it's...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RAZ: Looks like a pretty important medal.

BUNCH: This is a Croix de guerre that was given to a man named Lawrence McVey who was a member of the 369th, the Harlem's Hellfighters. And this is a group that went over to France in 1917. Initially, the U.S. government didn't want them there. They were then reassigned to the French Army, fought in French uniforms. But they were known as one of the best fighting units. They were so good at defeating the Germans that they received this honor, which is very unusual for...

RAZ: This is a group of soldiers from Harlem.

BUNCH: From Harlem.

RAZ: They fought under the French flag.

BUNCH: The United States government said that we would use black soldiers as laborers, but we don't want you to fight as equals. And so, after many complaints from the African-American community, these folks were then saying, well, we will give you to the French Army.

And what was so interesting is this caused all kinds of trouble that when the French Army treated them as equals, there was a great fear. What happens now when they come back to the American Army, are they going to expect certain rates? And so, I think what you find is that people like Mr. McVey, when they came back, they demanded a changed America.

RAZ: That is an untold story.

BUNCH: It's a great story.

RAZ: You can imagine a film being told about a group of African American soldiers from Harlem going to fight for the French under the French flag because they wanted to take part in this fight.

BUNCH: Exactly. And it's a great story because they come back in 1919, and they're part of this amazing parade of all the World War I American soldiers marching up Fifth Avenue. And so the story is that they're at the back of the line and - but they're applause, and then they cross 110th Street into Harlem and apparently Harlem went wild.

RAZ: Incredible story. And I should remind everybody listening, Lonnie, that all of us, everybody will be able to see these at the museum in 2015 when the doors open. This is incredible. Let me just describe it. It is a poster. It looks like a photograph or daguerreotype from the 19th century of maybe an African king. This is a modern photograph from the late 1960s. Who is it?

BUNCH: This is Huey P. Newton, who was one of the founders of the Black Panther Party in a kind of wicker chair, sitting on top of a zebra with sort of African shields on his side and African spear in his left hand, but in his right hand is a shotgun with shells by his feet, and then, the quintessential modern look, the black leather jacket and the black beret. This is the image that inspired young people, black and white, and terrified J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI.

RAZ: This is an organization that struck fear into the hearts of people all across America.

Absolutely. J. Edgar Hoover felt that this was the number one enemy that would destroy America. And so he...

Incredible, because it was a relatively small group.

BUNCH: It's a very small group. And - but what happened is that that image was so powerful that they began to have chapters all around the country. And those chapters would have run-ins with police. And each time the run-in occurred, they became more famous. But I think the contribution would now gone from viewing the Panthers as a black radical group to understanding more that while self-defense was part, so were educational programs, feeding young kids. And so, I think that we, in this museum, are going to be able to tell the full story of what the Black Panther Party was.

RAZ: That's amazing. That's Lonnie Bunch. He's the founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It's set to open its doors here in Washington, D.C. on the National Mall right next to the Washington Monument in 2015. Lonnie, we'll be back in a couple of months and get a glimpse of some other things that you guys are...

BUNCH: Looking forward to it. It's wonderful. Thank you as always.

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