The National Museum of African American History and Culture opened in September 2016, after more than a century of development. Designed to "tell the American story through the lens of African American history and culture," it forms the only national museum in the USA that is exclusively devoted to the documentation of African American history and culture. It stands on Washington's National Mall as the newest, nineteenth museum of the Smithsonian Institute. Established by an Act of Congress in 2003, the museum has had over one million visitors since its opening.
The displays in the museum are divided into two halves. There are three history galleries, charting key events in the history of America, with specific reference to the experience of the African American community. These galleries begin with displays about Africa prior to the slave trade, showcasing the rich culture and advanced nature of civilisations there. The displays then move on to enslavement, the Middle Passage and Plantation Life. In all of these displays, the experience of the enslaved people is central to the interpretation, and much use is made of archive material, providing quotations which bring the voices of the enslaved to the fore of the narrative.
The displays in the history galleries go on to interpret abolition, reconstruction, emancipation and Civil Rights. They end with the inauguration of Barack Obama in 2009. The displays make use of a wealth of collections, some 36,000 objects now belong to the museum. The key to the narrative throughout all of these displays is the central position of African Americans to the national history of America.
The other side of the museum consists of three 'community galleries.' Again these focus on the achievements of African Americans, through themes like sport, military, theatre, television, literature and art. Here, some of the museum's 'celebrity' artefacts, including Michael Jordan's NBA finals jersey and one of Jimi Hendrix's vests. This section of the museum also houses the 'Robert Frederick Smith Explore Your Family History Centre,’ where visitors can look at digitised archive material with expert guidance to explore their own family tree.
Exploring the role of women and food from the Congo basin in the past and today, MAA’s first exhibition in our rebranded spotlight gallery is co-curated with the Congo Great Lakes Initiative.
Keeping the Past Alive is a partnership between University College London's Ethnography Collection and Congo Great Lakes Initiative. The exhibition reflects the stories that Congolese community members share as and how they interact with objects, either personal, provocative or relational. It is divided into three topics: traditional power objects, sacred rituals and medicine, and everyday life. The objects on display tell stories, sometimes with a metaphor of their own, which will, we hope, make visitors internalize and discuss the messages they bring. This exhibition is the final step of our collaboration with Congo Great Lakes which started one year ago. During the project, an interactive platform which can host online exhibitions has been developed. The platform collects archives and documentation and shares the data with Horniman and UCL Congolese collections and members of CGLI.
The Sticks and Stones Project was led by Northamptonshire Record Office and Northamptonshire Black History Association. A group of students from Kingsthorpe Community College investigated slavery past and present, through historical workshops and a trip to the Houses of Parliament. The focus was on the history of slavery but also learning about forms of modern slavery such as sweatshop labour and trafficking. The students produced a short film and an exhibition to highlight the issues important to young people.
Slavery Remembrance Day, as designated by UNESCO, took place in Liverpool on 23 August 2007. The day was commemorated with a series of events, marked first by a multi-faith act of worship at Liverpool's Parish Church of St Nicholas. A traditional African libation ceremony, calling on ancestors to bless the event, took place on the city's waterfront at Otterspool Promenade. A programme of music and drama showcased Black culture and heritage around the themes of life in Africa, the Middle Passage and the legacies of transatlantic slavery. The International Slavery Museum at the Albert Dock had its official opening on the same day. The symbol of the day was the Sankofa, a mythical African bird that files forward while looking backward.
The dance-theatre production Heartbeat Riddim Chant was based on the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade. The production premiered at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds in July 2007, and mixed dance, live music and voice, including traditional Caribbean folk dancing blended with contemporary reggae. The show was choreographed by David Hamilton, and featured dancers from Regeyshun Dance and members of the community dance group Back Bone. There were also performances from youth dance groups and young voices from across Leeds, including LS7 Result, Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Gee4orce and Leeds Young Authors.
The Ulster's People's College and the South Belfast Roundtable on Racism launched an exhibition to mark the bicentenary at a Northern Ireland Committee for Refugees and Asylum Seekers (NICRAS) conference on slavery at the Linen Hall Library in 2007. A study group of community workers from NICRAS, the Chinese Welfare Association, Black Youth Network, Donegall Pass Community Forum and the Donegall Pass Community Centre produced the exhibition which told the story of Ireland's involvement in the slave trade and its abolition. Attention was drawn to the fact that merchants in Belfast and across Ireland profited by supplying slave plantations with provisions such as beef or salted fish; some owned slave plantations. The exhibition also stressed that a growing number of campaigners often fought both for Catholic Emancipation and the Abolition of Slavery, linking the two experiences of disadvantage. The exhibition also raised the issues of contemporary slavery and racism. The exhibition toured community centres in Northern Ireland.
The Sounds of Slavery was a project by the performance and visual arts group River Niger Arts to research, record and develop a performance-related programme around the musical heritage and legacy of slavery. The project took particular interest in these themes in relation to the City of Liverpool, but also addressed them in global terms. The project created a database of songs and narratives from the period of slavery. Members of the River Niger Orchestra also performed at a Sounds of Slavery performance at Liverpool Hope University. Some of the songs performed included 'The Chase', 'No More Auction Block' and the African American spiritual 'The Jubilee Song'. The project was accompanied by a series of performance and visual arts education workshops with schools.
To commemorate the bicentenary, St Mungo Museum of Religious Art and Life (with support from the Scottish Museum Council) explored the social and economic legacies of slavery, including racism and cultural stereotyping. The museum worked with members of Glasgow's African and African Caribbean communities on reinterpreting objects from across Glasgow Museums. As part of the project, artist Beth Forde was commissioned to create an artwork to explore some of the issues raised, titled 'The shadow of the object fell upon the ego'. Voices from Africa was part of a year-long programme of lectures, schools events and exhibitions highlighting the life of African communities in Glasgow. This included a photographic project with photographer Roddy Mackay to represent African heritage in Scotland, and a series of free workshops exploring aspects of faith and belief.
Glasgow Anti Racist Alliance (GARA) organised a programme of events for Black History Month in October 2007 with a particular focus on the bicentenary and engaging people in the importance of Black history. GARA were supported by Glasgow City Council Education Services and Culture and Sport Glasgow. Events included talks at the Hunterian Museum, interactive exhibits at the Glasgow Science Centre and film showings, capoeira and African drumming workshops at the Glasgow Film Theatre. Sugar & Spice Sunday on 14 October marked the bicentenary with a festival of commemoration and celebration through films and events. GARA also hosted Black History Tours around Glasgow to explore the city's hidden slavery history.
An evening of presentations and music organised by Fife Workers' Educational Association, examining Fife and Scotland's role in the slave trade and abolition, and efforts to end contemporary slavery.
The Towards Understanding Slavery: Past and Present initiative by Glasgow City Council aimed to increase understanding of the human effects of the transatlantic slave trade, and explore its impact on Scotland's national heritage and Glasgow's history. A series of events, exhibitions and education programmes ran across the city throughout 2007. These included an exhibition of William Blake's works relating to the idea of slavery at the Burrell Collection, and a photographic exhibition by Graham Fagen, 'Downpresserer', at the Gallery of Modern Art, examining the cultural heritages of Scotland and Jamaica. There was a series of performances and talks at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, and events at the People's Palace and Winter Gardens focused on links between Glasgow's tobacco trade and slavery through the family portrait of the 'tobacco lord' John Glassford (there is said to be a figure of a young black man behind Glassford's chair that has been deliberately obscured or painted over). A year-long programme of lectures, schools events and exhibition highlighting the life of African communities in Glasgow took place at St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art.
The Cowper and Newton Museum is located in Olney, Buckinghamshire, in the building that was once the home of the 18th century poet William Cowper. The Reverend John Newton - formerly master of a slave ship - was Cowper's great friend, and wrote the abolitionist hymn 'Amazing Grace' in collaboration with Cowper whilst living in Olney. The museum's exhibition From Slave Trade to Fair Trade involved a reinterpretation of the museum's collections relating to slavery and abolition. The wider project also included a number of events and community engagement activities, in partnership with Milton Keynes Local Authority, Global Education Milton Keynes (GEMK), the charity World Vision and Culture Milton Keynes. Local black and minority ethnic groups worked with the museum on performances of poetry and readings associated with slavery. A touring display about John Newton and the transatlantic slave trade was shown in various schools, libraries and other locations in Milton Keynes throughout 2007. In April that year, the museum commemorated the bicentenary of the Abolition Act and the death of John Newton with a weekend of talks, tours, church services and a concert from the Todd Murray Group choir.
Part of the Equiano Project led by Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, the Culture Clubs were a series of outreach projects enabling contributions by local schools and community groups to the way Equiano’s story is told and the issues surrounding how his experience is represented. The four groups - Techno Elders, Hockley Youth Project, Deansfield Secondary School and King George V Primary School - worked closely with the project teams and professional artists to produce work based upon Equiano’s life story. Their work featured within the Gas Hall and Soho House exhibitions.
The Hockley Youth Project’s work was displayed in the ‘Unshackled’ exhibition at Soho House in Birmingham, once home of the industrialist Matthew Boulton. Working with visual artist Nicola Richardson, the group produced a series of suits and artworks which explore themes around Equiano’s life, particularly his success as a businessman and entrepreneur.
Bridgetower - A Fable of 1807 is a jazz opera composed by jazz pianist Julian Joseph, with libretto by author Mike Phillips. It was commissioned for the City of London Festival's bicentennial commemoration of the Abolition Act. The opera recreates the story of the Afro-European violinist George Polgreen Bridgetower (1778-1860), who was born into slavery, became a friend of Beethoven and was acclaimed throughout Europe for the standard of his playing. The opera was directed by Helen Eastman and toured by English Touring Opera. It opened during the 2007 City of London Festival at London Symphony Orchestra St Luke's, and later toured venues around the UK. Each performance featured a local community choir, with members drawn from local amateur choirs.
2007 saw a number of different projects taking place at Harewood House in West Yorkshire, home of the Lascelles family. The bicentenary was used as an opportunity to explore the family connections with the transatlantic slave trade and the sugar plantations of the West Indies.
To spotlight Harewood House's historic links with the Caribbean and carnival, in September 2007 a production of Carnival Messiah was held in a Big Top in the grounds. Carnival Messiah is a reinvention of George Frideric Handel’s oratorio Messiah as carnival theatre and heritage experience. The West Indian celebration features dancers, singers, masqueraders, musicians and actors. Stories from the Caribbean folk tradition, medieval mystery plays and African ritual combine with contemporary popular music and dance styles, including gospel, calypso, reggae, jazz, hop hop, bhangra and steel band. Geraldine Connor was Creator and Artistic Director and David Lascelles of Harewood House was Executive Producer. A community education and outreach programme ran alongside the project.
The Freedom Roads exhibition at Guildhall Art Gallery was one of several initiatives led by London Metropolitan Archives to mark the bicentenary. The exhibition featured contemporary photographic portraits of people of African origin whose work has contributed to the continuing struggle for human rights in different fields. Colin Prescod, Shirley Thompson, Eric and Jessica Huntley and Rudolph Walker were amongst the individuals featured. Others like the young people from BEAT (Black Experience Archive Trust) were engaged in a project to find out about significant people in their local community. Each person was photographed with an image of an object or place which has a special significance to them. The other part of the exhibition focused on relevant archival materials held by London Metropolitan Archives, including the South African Bill of Rights and a copy of the Constitution signed by Nelson Mandela, Cyril Ramaphosa, F. W. De Klerk and Roelf Meyer. Other material relating to slavery and abolition included a letter from John Julius, a plantation owner on the island of St. Kitts.
The Greater London Authority produced an Events Guide for Londoners in 2007 detailing some of the initiatives taking place in the capital involving the Mayor. This included Africa Day on Trafalgar Square, celebrating the positive contributions of London's African communities, and 'Rise: London United', an anti-racist music festival. The conference 'Faith Symposium: In God's Name?' at City Hall examined the role of the Church in the transatlantic slave trade. There was also a seminar on the legacies of the transatlantic slave trade from a Caribbean perspective and a Caribbean Publishers Book Fair held at London Metropolitan University. The Dr Eric E. Williams Memorial Lecture Series at City Hall was made available as a webcast.
In consultation with local community groups, in 2007 the Natural History Museum commissioned new research into its collections that link slavery and the natural world. The research uncovered experiences of enslaved people and the use of plants in their everyday life, as food, medicines and poisons. It also examined the complex relationships between enslaved people and naturalists exploring newly-colonised lands. The museum ran a series of public events, co-hosted by Race on the Agenda, which aimed to bring the historical, scientific and public viewpoints together. It created online educational resources on themes such as Commercial Plants, Everyday Life, Diet and Nutrition, and Resistance. The museum also developed cross-curricular ideas for school lessons in Science using the context of slavery, looking at foods across different cultures, for example.
Drivers for Change was a project led by LifeLine Network, a network of partnerships between community organisations and NGOs with a common aim to fight poverty. In Summer 2007, a team of young people visited Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone and Dominica to explore the ways in which people were combating modern slavery. The trip was inspired by two significant points in history: the 1807 Abolition Act, and the half way point of the Millennium Development Goals, for which 189 nations signed up to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty. While in Africa, the group looked at how global partnerships between individuals bring communities together, and assist in countering the impact of poverty and HIV/AIDS. A film was produced documenting the trip, launched at an event was held at the Palace of Westminster.