Changing America (Gabby)

“The worst enemy is not hatred but silence”

By Gabby

Background Information
During the first week of the program our group visited the “Changing America: The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863, and the March on Washington, 1963” exhibit at the Smithsonian American History Museum. This exhibit is a preview of the type of exhibit halls that will be included in the new National Museum of African American History and Culture, opening in 2016. The Museum of African American History and Culture was created in 2003 by an Act of Congress that established it as part of the Smithsonian Institutions. The Smithsonian Board of Regents, the governing body of the Institution, voted in January 2006 to build the museum between 14th and 15th street (across the street from the American History Museum). The museum’s central goal will be to remember the legacy of African Americans in the United States, and by fostering a remembrance of this legacy, the museum hopes to encourage a continued growth of discussions on race and equality in the United States.

Our Experience
At the museum a man named John Franklin led us on a very interesting tour. Mr. Franklin worked for the African American History and Culture Museum, and was visibly excited about its progress and future opening. The tour was of an exhibit that will be placed in the future African American History and Culture Museum in 2016, and displays what was happening among the African American population in the United States during the periods when the Emancipation Proclamation was passed in 1863, and when the March on Washington occurred 100 years later in 1963. The first part of the tour looked at slavery in the United States in 1863, and the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. The tour began by our group receiving maps that displayed the trade routes for slaves in the 1800’s and 1700’s. These maps were unlike any I had seen before, and featured more details on how many slaves were transported to each region, and where particular slaves in the United States were from originally in Africa. The maps were a great way to start the tour and allowed us to better understand the first part of the exhibit, which focused on slavery in the United States and how it affected African Americans around the country. The exhibit was very interesting and as a group we all learned a lot about slavery in the United States. Even the American students who often cover the topic of slavery in history classes at school felt that they had learned a lot of new information about slavery that made it more real to the entire group.

After this half of the exhibit we journeyed over to the other half, which featured a look into the background, and conception of the March on Washington in 1963, 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation was passed in 1863. This side of the exhibit hall was a great eye opener into how much work was put into the development and creation of the March. We learned a lot about people who were involved in the March and also learned about the obstacles the March met during the planning. Both sides of the exhibition hall were a great learning experience for everyone in the group and gave us many new ideas and information to think about and reflect on concerning the African American experience in the United States.

The Big Idea
Our big idea from this tour was that the worst enemy was not hatred but silence. This big idea stemmed from the idea that a large majority of people in the United States did not actively help African Americans fight for equality, and this silence was almost as powerful as the hate spewed by many other violent groups. By remaining quiet and not speaking up for their fellow countrymen, it displayed a strong message for many, many, years that no one in the United States truly cared that African Americans were treated as second class citizens in their own country. By the United States creating this culture of silence towards the injustices against African Americans and developing an attitude of “that’s just the way it is” throughout the country, the basic human rights of African Americans were forgotten for many centuries. If this apathetic culture had not been created throughout this country, African Americans could have possibly gained basic human rights earlier than 1964.