This was the best attended of all the DC museums we visited, if you’re speaking of the audience being honored at that museum. There were smiles everywhere and I do hope these kids leave feeling better about their chance of success in today’s world. I am an old white guy and I will say this: Young black people still face an uphill climb, but they have more opportunity today than their parents, and twice what their grand-parents had. We have elected a black president twice and lord-a-mercy, did he ever do a great job. The museum had good coverage of the civil rights movement but if you are of a certain age, white or black, one remembers it as a painful time all too well, and the pictures hurt. And I am still an old white guy.
There was thorough coverage of the impact of black athletes on sports, of black artists on music, but not enough on southern cuisine, and not nearly enough of black influence on story-telling, idioms, and word usages. Michael Jordan, Willie Mays, and Jim Brown, and 100’s of other sports heroes are acknowledged here, but what about the poet Langston Hughes, gutter humorist Dolemite, novelist Toni Morrison, or New Orleans restaurateur Leah Chase? Each had a very brief mention here; each deserved more.
LET AMERICA BE AMERICA AGAIN
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Langston Hughes, 1936
I wanted to learn more on how nations that did not allow slavery at home encouraged it in their colonies. But the escalators were being overhauled, and with no elevators extant, the only access to the history of slavery in the USA required a three-floor descent of stairs or a ramp without handrails. My new knee wasn’t ready for that and I had to pass. But were I to speculate, my guess would be that a lot of money was involved, and that made slavery acceptable. Yo, we live there today. Money keeps us from doing something about global warming. Money keeps Republicans in power. Money keeps the USA from having health care for all. 50 years ago I read this on the wall of a restroom at LSU : “Life is like a shit sandwich – the more bread you have the less shit you have to eat.” But even in today’s highly prosperous times, most of us don’t have enough bread to cover the taste of the filling, which I suppose is the best explanation for slavery there is. (If you have a better one, please post it as a Comment).
We did see Chuck Berry’s red ’73 El Dorado convertible, hundreds of photos of vintage entertainment figures, a veritable hall of fame of black musicians (including an obscure personal favorite, Frankie Beverly and Maze), and yes, Huddie Ledbetter’s 12-string guitar. Huddie is Mooringsport’s most famous former resident … the musicology Lomaxes gave him credit for “Midnight Special” and he put “Goodnight Irene” on the musical map.
There remains room for improvement, but the Black Culture and History Museum is worth a visit.
And I will bid you adieu with a white boy band’s version of The Midnight Special. If you are ancient or spend time in supermarkets, you have heard of them, and they respect the blues while stealing it. Who? John Fogerty, formerly of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Those guys.