Child's PortraitMost images of African-Americans in the early 20th century are portraits of poverty. Museum director Lonnie Bunch came across a remarkable collection of "cabinet cards" — portraits of middle-class blacks who were otherwise "invisible to most people."
A Bill Of Sale For A SlaveThis is the original receipt for a 16-year-old girl named Polly who was sold for $600. "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."
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 the shackles with a padlock. The size of the shackle loops indicates they were used on legs rather than arms.
Thomas H. Porter Slave ButtonsThomas 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.
John Brown And Frederick Douglas LettersIn letters written to his wife while he was visiting Frederick Douglas, John Brown expresses his commitment to abolition, but also his longing to see her and his family. Douglas adds a greeting and reassuring words.
Cross Burning In North CarolinaIn 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, Bunch says.
Glass Shards And Shotgun ShellJoan Trumpauer Mulholland gathered these artifacts from the gutter outside the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., during the funeral of the young girls killed in the 1963 bombing. Mulholland, a member the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the '60s, donated several objects to the museum.
A Sign About Care At A Louisiana HospitalA carefully hand-lettered sign that once hung at the Lallie Kemp Charity Hospital in Independence, La., delineates the days "colored" patients could receive medical services.
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.
Cassius Clay'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.
"Whether your family's been in this country 200 years or 20 minutes," Bunch says, "I want you to come to this museum and say, 'I get it. This is not a black story. This is my story. This is the American story.'" Above, an architectural rendering shows the interior of the museum.