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History lessons
Exhibit shows impact of blacks on U.S.
 
Published Tuesday, July 3, 2012 1:33 pm
by Ebony Shamberger

Video: Ebony Shamberger

Walking through the dark halls of Tavis Smiley’s “America I Am” exhibit at the Harvey B. Gantt Center you’ll hear the sounds of slaves running through the woods and see silhouettes of chains on the backs of spectators.


The walk-through consists of about 200 artifacts broken down into four topics – economical, socio-political, cultural and spiritual – that tell 500 years of African-American contributions to the nation.


Though it has traveled across America for four years, its last stop at the Gantt center is the only African-American site it has been.
 “I’m glad to say that this is the final stop, the only stop, we’re making here in this region of the country,” Smiley said at Friday’s press conference and tour of the exhibit. “Harvey Gantt is, himself obviously, black history. He is North Carolina history, he is Charlotte history. So, all this stuff is coming together at the right time and the right place.”


The African American Imprint Exhibition is scheduled to be here until January 1.


“America I Am” has artifacts like Prince’s guitar from the movie “Purple Rain” and the dungeon “doors of no return” from Cape Coast Castle of Ghana; there’s Tupac Shakur’s handwritten lyrics and Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls jersey from game six of the 1992 NBA finals. 


But regardless of race or age, Smiley hopes all attendees will answer a question W.E.B. Du Bois asked 100 years ago: Would America be America without her Negro people?


Before giving a tour on Friday, Smiley said that it is widely known that Lewis Latimer made the light filament and George Washington Carver created peanut butter. However, he said blacks do not know about other inventions and accomplishments of their own people. Thus, he hopes that when people leave the exhibit they will have “an appreciation, an understanding and an embracing of the other.”


He went on to say that “so many ways our society is still segregated. When you come to a museum exhibit it can move you beyond that segregated space without making you feel uncomfortable.”


Rachel Reynolds, 35, a Costco marketing and business developer who helped prepare breakfast for the press conference, said the exhibit gave her “a chilling feeling.”


She said when she later visits with her three children it will be a historical moment when she has to explain the displayed Ku Klux Klan hoodie to her youngest child.


“My 6-year-old may ask can I wear the white hood and the jacket for Halloween. But having him understand that that’s not something that you want to replicate” will leave a lasting effect.

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