Washington DC; October 5th 2018
It all starts downstairs.
Dr. Brad R. Baxton, Director of the Center for the Study of African American Religious Life, welcomes our group in the Oprah Winfrey theater.
We are underground the National Museum of African American History.
It is very early in the morning, they are no other visitors. The space, silent, is opened.
“There is a Western African proverb,” Dr. Baxton says.
Where there is no music, the spirit will not visit.
“I often tell the visitors, they are two themes in our Museum;
One is what I call, the grotesque in humanity. Because, what you are about to see, really is, the grotesque in humanity.
You have to be ready.
But yet, there is something else, something that resists: it is what I called, the invicible hope.”
And so it begins.
We start underground.
Through the floors, I am consumed by reenacting this history that started not so long ago; the economic blossoming of Europe and America “against the backdrop of slavery and colonization.”
I am completely immersed in the beautifully designed exhibition space. The rooms unfold one after the other in a perfectly clear chronological order. I journey through paintings, sculptures and breathtaking testimonies, completely overwhelmed.
Everything is there: public molesting of slaves, the voices of the XIXth century, the boycott of Montgomerry.
It is impossible not to feel anger, when I read about Emmet Till’s mother.
Anger but also greatness, and yes, Dr Baxton was right, invicible hope vibrates.
I take the escalators: the upper galleries remarkably stage the power, strength and irresistible appeal of African-American culture in the arts, in politics and in diaspora.
I laugh, I dance.
I return back down: the lower galleries finish on an ambiguos note — they challenge me to think. Since the 1960s; African-American history is rather a “collage than a linear trajectory,” they say, it is impossible to conclude, there is no clear narrative but defeats and victories.
Well, if the situation is complex there is room for change: and change means consciousness, dialog and education — it means real conversations.
As Baldwin reminds me towards the end: “the great force of history (is that) we carry it within us (and that it) is literally present in all that we do.”
So let’s make space!
For resistance, social action and tireless dedication to human collective avancement, awareness and compassion.
© Rosalie Calvet, October 2018