Michael Jackson's Hat Among Museum's New Finds

Michael Jackson's Victory Tour black fedora i i

Michael Jackson's Victory Tour black fedora with an interior, black leather hat 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. Shaan Kokin hide caption

itoggle caption Shaan Kokin
Michael Jackson's Victory Tour black fedora

Michael Jackson's Victory Tour black fedora with an interior, black leather hat 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.

Shaan Kokin

It's felt, black, wide-brimmed and one of the most iconic hats in history. On a recent afternoon inside an NPR studio, Michael Jackson's fedora was carefully removed from a box by two museum handlers and displayed on a mat.

The hat is part of the growing collection of artifacts that will make up the permanent collection at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

In five years, the museum is set to open up on the National Mall, just under the shadow of the Washington Monument.

It will become the latest Smithsonian museum and the first national museum to celebrate the legacy of Americans of African descent.

Lonnie Bunch is the executive director and museum curator. Much of his time is now spent traveling the country — and the world — searching for artifacts to tell the story of Africans in America.

Bunch stopped by NPR headquarters for a little show and tell. Along with Jackson's fedora, Bunch managed to find a powderhorn used by a freed slave named Prince Simbo, who fought with the Connecticut line during the Revolutionary War.

"It really speaks volumes about the commitment of African-Americans to liberty," Bunch said.

He told NPR's Guy Raz that not much is known about Simbo, but that he clearly saw battle, because he was rewarded after the war.

Over the coming months, Bunch will continue to stop by to share some of his latest "finds" with All Things Considered.

Enslaved African shackles from the middle passage i i

These shackles, made for slaves to wear, 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. Courtesy of the National Museum of African American History and Culture hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of the National Museum of African American History and Culture
Enslaved African shackles from the middle passage

These shackles, made for slaves to wear, 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.

Courtesy of the National Museum of African American History and Culture

The Darkest Chapter

The history of slavery in America will be a prominent part of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The problem for curator Lonnie Bunch is that very few material remains of enslavement exist.

He did recently acquire two iron shackles used to restrain slaves during transport from the middle passage. Each shackle is an iron bar strung with two loops large enough for a pair of legs. Slaves were hobbled by shackles for weeks under the deck of ships bound for the United States.

"Part of why we collect this is to be able to humanize that great tragedy," Bunch says. "When you look at this and realize that one person was kept in this for weeks — it suddenly makes this real.

"What I hope happens is that somebody sees this and realizes the strength of somebody who survived that."

Portrait of an African-American child, circa 1890-1910 i i

This portrait is part of a collection of late 19th and early 20th century portraits of middle-class African-Americans. Courtesy of the National Museum of African American History and Culture hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of the National Museum of African American History and Culture
Portrait of an African-American child, circa 1890-1910

This portrait is part of a collection of late 19th and early 20th century portraits of middle-class African-Americans.

Courtesy of the National Museum of African American History and Culture

The Middle Class Experience

Most images of African-Americans in the early 20th century are portraits of poverty. Yet curator Lonnie Bunch came across a remarkable collection of "cabinet cards" — portraits of middle-class blacks who were otherwise "invisible to most people."

Most of the portraits were taken in New York at the beginning of the 20th century. "What I love about these is the sense of pride," Bunch says.

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