This country was built on the backs of black men and women, forced into slavery. Our country wouldn’t be what it is today if we didn’t have the free and arduous labor black men, women and children provided in the fields and on the plantations. How our early economy faired paved the way for American to sustain independence. But black lives weren’t only used for economic reasons – they were enslaved for social reasons too. Black slaves dressed their masters in fine clothes while they lived in rags. They cooked and served five course meals while they ate cornmeal, lard and molasses. They often couldn’t even have the left overs without getting whipped or worse. And whipped not with a belt, but a hard chord of leather that had fragments of sharp glass on the ends. Slave women nursed and reared master’s children while their own children were ripped from their arms to be sold to the highest bidder, often before the kids were even five years old. Learning to read or to better yourself in anyway was sometimes even punishable by death.
Many people don’t know much about the lives of slaves. Most schools don’t want to talk about things that could disturbing children or parents. Society, by and large, doesn’t want to face this stuff either. Things that make us feel sad or scared or ashamed.
|credit: Phil Freelon of www.freelon.com|
Today is an important day. Our black president cut the ribbon of entry into a museum dedicated to this important history and culture. The National Museum of African American History and Culture. A history that we as a nation have been reluctant to face, because of our shame and our fear. It's time to face this history and all of our history, America. It's time to come clean. We’ve been inching forward with this mission for some time, making progress. The museum also celebrates that, too – the resiliency, the strength and the beauty of African American history and culture. And what resiliency to have come from such a history to be standing strong today. What strength. Think about music, sports, food in American. Church. Much of our music today has roots in black culture. Watch football? Or baseball? Or how about even tennis with the Williams sisters? How beautiful, to take something so painful and build into the societies and communities existing today.
But this is not only a call for facing that part of our troubled history. Let’s keep the conversation going, standing not only with our black sisters and brothers, but our native sisters and brothers, our Latino and Irish and Jewish sisters and brothers, and every other race or ethnicity we've othered out of fear or greed. Conversation by conversation. Museum by museum. Day by day. Let’s dig up our roots and rebuild.
I’m ready to stand in front of the slave cabin, the auction block and the slave shackles the Museum has in its collection. But, I’m also ready to stand next to Muhammad Ali’s boxing gloves and Louis Armstrong’s trumpet. Facing fear and celebrating strength. Beauty. Resilience.
This museum isn’t just for African Americans, but for all Americans. This is all of our history. We all have work to do and we all have gifts to contribute. Towards a future we all share.