A Birthday Visit to the National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C.

by Shasta Paravati August. 30, 2019 665 views

(Below) For my dad's 75+ birthday, I decided to take my parents to the NMAAHC. I waited online in March to secure tickets and I was totally excited for them as they are original donors to the museum. My parents were raised in the Jim Crow South on opposite sides of Virginia. They were teens at the start of the Civil Rights Movement. This blog touches on this period and their experience. If you're in Washington, D.C. please visit the museum. Please see the museum website for more information: https://nmaahc.si.edu/

After descending to the 1400s, the first level is dedicated to the establishment of the slave trade abroad and its migration to the Americas.

(Below) Slaves were required to pick nearly 600 lbs of cotton in one day (yes you read that correctly). On some plantations, children were required to produce the same.

Whole families were torn apart for free labor on stone blocks such as the one below. The smaller white bag holds an endearing story of love and family connection.

(Below pic and white bag to the viewers left) A slave woman's child was sold from her. To have an item of sentiment the mother gave her child a cloth cotton bag to remember her. The child kept this bag and it was passed down through the generations. This small sentiment kept the family "tied" together when it was torn apart. The family donated this to the museum. That's an enormous sacrifice for something so valued.

Note: Children were a big commodity, especially girls, because of their ability to reproduce free workers. The price of slave bodies increased after import was outlawed. Breeding farms developed in the Northern South (Eastern Shore of Maryland and Richmond, Va, most notably) and made lots of money shipping bodies to the deep south. Keep in mind records and recent ethnography research have proven African bodies were still coming in illegally. I have an ancestor who arrived in the U.S. in 1860. She was sold in Roanoke, Va. to a plantation in Henry County, Va. She was about 10 years old.

(below) Segregation exhibit: I thank the museum for strategically placing all KKK items to the back of this exhibit. Partons who endured this period (such as my parents) can bypass these artifacts and avoid being re-traumatized.

(below) I said to my parents, "Come stand by the lunch counter and please smile." My mother said, "This was no laughing matter." My father's face fell grim and he agreed. The dehumanization that came across their faces is something I will never forget. I told them the impact of what they did and how it contributed to this exhibit. Whether they realized it or not, the younger generations know and appreciate what they've done. I continued, "You're change makers. I'm begging you to please take this picture. It really does matter." They walked to the counter, looked at the footage behind them, turned to the camera and smiled with pride.

(below) Yes the "colored" signs. My parents said "these signs made it clear where our place was in society." But they wanted the picture because a family member didn't believe these signs existed. (hmmmm....)

(Below) All of us appreciated this.

(below) Thanks to my oldest brother, this is what I listened to on my way to gymnastics practice as a 9-year-old. The resistance of late X-Generation to early Millennials (I'm a Xinneal) was through provocative social rap. Public Enemy and N.W.A. were prominent forces in our youth. This music genre used song and even album covers to convey a message of anti-racism. Later, for me, people like Tupac continued this legacy which now inspired books and movies such as 'The Hate You Give'.

(below) Black Feminism.

(below) Thanks Dr. Angelou. The museum aims to educate through story so that this history shall not be lived again.

(below) The benches from segregated schools. My parents said, "Wow! that's what our schools literally had. Where did they find these??!"

(Below) My dad sitting with his classmates...

He entered North Carolina A&T State University in the fall of 1959 a couple months before the start of the Civil Rights Movement. He was 18. His classmates participated in the first sit-in at Woolworths in Greensboro, NC. This action of social resistance is often credited as the start of the Civil Rights Movement. To aid the efforts, my dad provided relief supplies to the students and did so for other demonstrations throughout his time at A&T. My mother and her twin were participating in sit-ins in Norfolk, Va. where they were attending college.

My dad sitting with his classmates.

My dad sitting with his classmates.

(below) In the first upper level, we met a sweet lady and her husband who are contemporaries of my parents. The lady said with such anxiety, " You're young and you have no idea. You needed the Green Book. You didn't know if you'd make it to your destination alive without it." My mother overheard and said "That's right. You could've been killed." My dad and her husband nodded in emotionless agreement. I started international travel young because of my mother. She always said "You can do things I couldn't do." At this moment it all came together. That was a sobering moment.

(below) Of course the museum has a nice 'little' display honoring black fraternities and sororities. #AKA

This was a fun sign to see at the entrance of the entertainment and art level.

(Above) I wrote this blog in dedication to my parents and my ancestors who comprise both educated and enslaved blacks, Native Americans and the slave master. I aim to be a good ancestor and I do so by telling all of my ancestral story with no racial edits. In the future (hopefully not too soon) my parents will enter the Realm of the Ancestors and their personal imprint of this lifetime will go with them. The legacy they created will live on through story and I will speak it until my last breath.

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Wil Nikolá 2 years ago

Wow! This is amazing Courtney! I'm planning to visit the AA museum in February to celebrate Black History Month. Love your pictures and the way you narrated your tour. I'm sure your parents had a great time! Xoxo

2 years ago Edited
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