Museum's Latest Find: Love Letter From John BrownThe latest sneak peak from the National Museum of African-American History and Culture includes a letter written by John Brown to his wife in 1858, when he was in Rochester, N.Y., visiting Frederick Douglass.
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.
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The National Museum of African-American History and Culture is scheduled to open its doors on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in 2015. Over the past several months, Weekend All Things Considered has been given exclusive sneak peeks of the collection being built for the new museum.
On a visit with Bunch last week, the first thing he pulled out was a letter written in 1858. Radical abolitionist John Brown wrote it to his wife while he was a fugitive from the law — and he happened to be visiting Frederick Douglass at his home in Rochester, N.Y.