Today I had the pleasure of attending the opening session of the 7th Annual Symposium on Reconciliation by the John Hope Franklin Center. The opening session started with a spoken word by Tony B, renowned poet and Tulsa Native. His poem started the whole day off bringing our attention to the central theme of the symposium, the process of reconciliation. He mentioned a study that was done where a group of blue eyed children were discriminated and chastised for a period of 4 days. After 4 days there was already a noticeable decline in their behavior and academic performance. “If 4 days is all it takes for someone to feel lasting effects from discrimination, it is no wonder that the black race who had endured 400 years of enslavement and violent discrimination is still trying to reconcile with the past. A dark past that often lingers in silence”.
After this powerful message, the featured speakers of the morning John W. (Whitt) Franklin (Director of Partnerships and International Programs) and Paul Gardullo (Museum Curator for the National Museum of African American History and Culture) shared with the audience an inside look into the exhibits, educational programming, collections, architecture, and future plans of the newest branch of the Smithsonian– the (NMAAHC) National Museum of African American History and Culture. Even though this museum has its home in D.C., the Tulsa presence is certainly felt in this space. John W. Franklin, son of John Hope Franklin, has continued his father’s legacy and has worked tirelessly to make sure the story of the Tulsa Race Riot (Massacre) and Black Wall Street are never forgotten and finally begin to receive national attention.
It was pretty interesting to learn that the architecture of the museum is a call back to Nigerian architecture and specifically Yoruba art and culture as this three tiered structure is designed to resemble a crown and traditional styles in early Yoruba architecture. This bronze corona design is covered in sculpted bronze panels that allow natural light into the space but also reveal different patterns and symbols that back splash onto the interior walls. Again reframing this space through the lens of African American History and Culture.
My favorite part of this experience, should come as no surprise, was getting to see some of the iconic artifacts that tell the story of American history “through the African American lens”. Some artifacts that have already been installed into exhibitions at the NMAAHC include a Southern Railway Car from South Carolina in the Jim Crow era, Nat Turner’s Bible, iron shackles, Louis Armstong’s trumpet, a restored Tuskegee airmen training plane, shards of glass from the 16th street church bombing in Birmingham, a small handful of pennies picked up by George Monroe during the Tulsa Race Riot (Massacre), a hymnal book belonging to Harriet Tubman, and a reconstructed full slave cabin.
This museum is unlike any museum I have ever seen, as the curators are constantly engaging in the work of reconciliation and giving voice to the often silent parts of history. They are doing this through a constant process of collecting; collecting stories, donated family treasures, and collecting items from all over the world that speak to the African Diaspora past, present, and future. Its a tall order but from what I can see they are doing a great job and I can’t wait to visit the museum when it opens to the public September 24th.
For more information about the National Museum of African American History and Culture click here
For more information about the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation click here