August 25, 2016
National Museum Of African American Culture
Opens Next Month At The Smithsonian
By Jesse J. Holland
Washington (AP) - Lonnie Bunch leans forward to peer inside a slave cabin from Edisto Island, South Carolina. The dark and cramped interior defies his attempts to showcase the small living space its occupants subsisted on.
Bunch flips on the flashlight on a borrowed smartphone, illuminating for his guests the craftsmanship, the hard work and the love that the cabin’s former occupants put into what little they had.
The unification of the old and the new, and the use of modern techniques to explain the historical past - that’s what the National Museum of African American History and Culture and Bunch, its founding director, are striving for when the newest Smithsonian museum opens on the National Mall next month. President Barack Obama will help dedicate the museum on Sept. 24.
Banner used by Oklahoma Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, American, founded 1910, National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, American, founded 1896. Credit: Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Silk (fiber), wood, paint.
Proud of the striking, dark brown angular museum, Bunch sees its goal as helping all Americans understand and appreciate the rich cultural history of African-Americans, and to shine a light on the contributions and achievements of blacks to what the United States has become.
``This is an opportunity to take an amazing culture, and understand what it mean to be an American through this lens,’’ said Bunch, as he guided observers through a special sneak peek inside the building.
The museum is designed to take visitors through African-American history in the United States from slavery, on the lower level, to a reproduction of Oprah Winfrey’s television set upstairs and artifacts from Obama’s first presidential campaign. The slavery exhibits are in rooms with small cramped walls to simulate slave ships. Also, there are pieces of an actual slave ship, the São José-Paquete de Africa, which wrecked off the coast of South Africa while carrying more than 400 enslaved people from Mozambique.
The slave cabin, from the Point of Pines Plantation on Edisto Island, is one of the largest exhibits and was dismantled and reconstructed piece by piece inside the new museum. While the names of the slaves who lived inside the cabin are unknown, Bunch said the exhibit is a good way to help humanize the people who lived through slavery and to help explore the meaning of their lives.
``What’s important about this is that while slavery was a system that controlled people, it was also a system where people built homes and families and tried to sort of craft a life as best they could,’’ he said.
Interior construction is nearly done, Bunch said, as he led a group of journalists around wires and exhibits still under construction: Parliament Funkadelic’s Mothership is completely covered, although its distinctive shape is instantly recognizable; a Maya Angelou quote placard ``I am the dream and the hope of the slave’’ sits on a table waiting to be affixed to a wall along with quotes from Obama, Nikki Giovanni and Black Lives Matter founder Alicia Garza; and the playbill announcing Ira Aldridge as the first black man to play Shakespeare’s Othello in 1857 in England is hidden behind brown paper on the wall to keep it safe.
Construction on the distinctive looking building is done, Bunch said, and about 40 percent of the exhibits are already inside.
National Museum Of African American Culture
Some of the artifacts are so big the museum had to be built around them: a 90-year-old, 44-seat Southern Railway car that will help explain Jim Crow laws in the South, and a 20-foot-plus guard tower from the Louisiana State Penitentiary prison named ``Angola’’ after the plantation that once stood in its stead. It explores the use of policing and laws in the South that were designed to help keep newly freed blacks in bondage.
History can be seen even from the shape of the museum, Bunch said. The bronze exterior of the building is actually a latticework based on historic ironwork created by African-American slaves and freedmen in the South, which fits into their goal of emphasizing the hidden history of African-Americans, Bunch said.
Our ``goal was to craft a building that would help us remember the rich history of the African-American, so if you look at the building, it has wonderful angles that are shaped both by West African material and women whose hands were at prayer at exactly that angle,’’ Bunch said.
But history won’t be static inside the museum, Bunch said.
For example, in the comedy exhibit right alongside quotes from famous black comedians such as Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx is a joke by Bill Cosby, the first African-American to star in a dramatic show on network television. Cosby faces allegations that he drugged and molested dozens of women over five decades, and the 78-year-old comedian has been spending millions in an aggressive bid to stay out of prison, salvage his reputation and avoid legal judgments that could threaten his fortune.
When questioned about the appropriateness of including Cosby, Bunch said the museum will ``tell the story of what Bill Cosby was, what his impact was and ... the fact that his legacy is now being questioned. That’s it.’’
The museum will not stop collecting and curating items, Bunch said, and will strive to stay modern. The Oprah Winfrey Theater inside the building will host conferences on race and other issues, Bunch said.
And the museum itself is still changing. Basketball superstar Michael Jordan just gave a $5 million gift to the museum, which will now name its historical sports ``Game Changers’’ section the Michael Jordan Hall.
``African-American history did not stop with President Barack Obama’s election, and so we won’t stop there either,’’ Bunch said. ``There will be plenty for us to talk about in the future, and we’re looking forward to helping Americans understand the contributions of African Americans to the rich tapestry of our culture.’’
Hemingway Home Gets Antlers
Back Hunter S. Thompson Stole
By Keith Ridler
Boise, ID (AP) - A young Hunter S. Thompson went to Idaho to write about Ernest Hemingway and decided to take a piece of his hero home with him - a set of trophy elk antlers.
More than half a century later, the gonzo journalist’s wife returned the antlers to Hemingway’s house in the mountain town of Ketchum.
``He was embarrassed that he took them,’’ Anita Thompson told The Associated Press on Thursday, noting the deep respect her husband had for Hemingway’s work. ``He wished he hadn’t taken them. He was young, it was 1964, and he got caught up in the moment.
``He talked about it several times, about taking a road trip and returning them,’’ she said.
She gave back the antlers Aug. 5 to Ketchum Community Library, which helps catalog and preserve items in the residence where the author took his own life. It’s now owned by the Nature Conservancy.
In 1964, Hunter Thompson, then 27, came to Ketchum when he was still a conventional journalist. He had not yet developed his signature style, dubbed gonzo journalism, that involved inserting himself, often outrageously, into his reporting and that propelled him into a larger-than-life figure.
Thompson was writing a story for the National Observer about why the globe-trotting Hemingway shot and killed himself at his home three years earlier at age 61.
Hunter S. Thompson
Thompson attributed the suicide in part to rapid changes in the world that led to upheavals in places Hemingway loved most - Africa and Cuba.
Even Ketchum, which in the 1930s and 1940s attracted luminaries such as Gary Cooper, had fallen off the map of cafe society by the late 1950s, Thompson wrote.
In the story, later collected in his book ``The Great Shark Hunt,’’ he noted the problem of tourists taking chunks of earth from around Hemingway’s grave as souvenirs.
Early in the piece, he wrote about the large elk antlers over Hemingway’s front door but never mentioned taking them.
For decades, the antlers hung in a garage at Thompson’s home near Aspen, Colorado.
``One of the stories that has often been told over the years is the story of Hunter S. Thompson taking the antlers,’’ said the library’s Jenny Emery Davidson, who helped accept the trophy. ``These are two great literary figures who came together over the item of the antlers.’’
Davidson said historian Douglas Brinkley, who spoke at the library in May and was familiar with the antler story after interviewing the writer, contacted Anita Thompson. She called the library on Aug. 1.
Davidson said the antlers have since been shipped to a Hemingway grandson in New York who wanted them. It’s not clear if the antlers came from an elk killed by the author, who was a noted big game hunter, or if they were a gift.
Sean Hemingway didn’t respond to emails or phone messages seeking comment.
Like Ernest Hemingway, Thompson ended his own life by shooting himself, dying in 2005 at age 67 at his Colorado home.
His widow wants to turn the house where he lived and worked into a museum, planning to open it next year by invitation only. Like Hemingway’s home, it’s much the same as it was when Thompson was alive.
``I couldn’t open it with a clear conscious knowing there’s a stolen pair of antlers,’’ Anita Thompson said, noting the theft was unusual behavior, even by her husband’s standards.