Traveling Exhibition Adds Miami’s Black History On Its Stop Here
A diorama dedicated to African-American military servicemen is part of “Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow” at HistoryMiami Museum, which also includes stories of Black Miami, through Sunday, Feb. 12. (Photo Courtesy of HistoryMiami Museum)
A traveling exhibit holds keys to unlock the doors of Black Miami’s past.
Organized by the New-York Historical Society, “Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow,” has been criss-crossing the country, but Anita François, HistoryMiami Museum’s assistant curator, says that its Miami stop addresses the city’s turbulent past.
“It’s important for us to reflect upon the characteristics of Jim Crow in a city that is so often disassociated with the American South,” says François.
“When people think about Miami, they think about the glitz and the glamor and that (segregation and) extrajudicial violence didn’t happen here. But we’ve had hangings. We’ve had arson. We’ve had assaults. We’ve had terror. We’ve had the presence of the Klu Klux Klan and it’s important to know this part of Miami’s history as well.”
“Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow” is on view through Sunday, Feb. 12 at HistoryMiami Museum.
The timeline focuses on the end of the Civil War through World War I and includes artifacts concerning the civil rights struggle of African-Americans.
Lily Wong, associate curator and manager of History Exhibits at the New-York Historical Society, says that the exhibit, which originally debuted more than three years ago, continues to retain a captive audience.
“In 2018, it felt resonant and relevant to conversations that were happening around citizenship, democracy, equality, and freedom, and those continue to be really relevant conversations today. I think that’s part of why it has (traveled) to so many places. It’s an important chapter in our history to reflect on and understand how we got to where we are today.”
The artifacts showcased in the show are one of a kind, says Wong.
“(There are) items from our own collection, but also loans from the National Museum of African American History and Culture and other institutions who have generously lent us their items.”
They include a portrait of Dred Scott, a World War I toy soldier diorama of the Harlem Hellfighters, slave shackles worn by Mary Horn, a 17-year-old held captive post-slavery, and activist Ida B. Wells’ pamphlet entitled “Southern Horrors,” which references 728 lynchings within an eight-year period.
François points to Miami’s role in fighting for civil rights, something she says is often overlooked.
“Not many people know that Miami’s civil rights movement began a decade earlier than anywhere else in the south. The mid-1940s is when the first ‘wade-in’ took place at Haulover Beach and continued on with the sit-ins in 1959.”
VIDEO: Thelma Gibson: Stories of Resistance from Black Miami, HistoryMiami Museum.
As part of the exhibit, attendees will hear firsthand accounts of those who fought against racial injustice in Miami. Stories of Resistance from Black Miami, an oral history project, includes interviews from local activists including Thelma Gibson, Lonnie Lawrence, and Betty Ferguson.
“We are introducing leaders from the community who were involved in both past and contemporary racial justice movements,” says François. “I feel blessed as an institution that we were able to speak with so many of these inspiring individuals. Individuals that have been so pivotal in the racial justice movement efforts from past to present.”
Lawrence adds that the importance of the exhibit cannot be overstated, particularly for Miami’s youth.
“I think it’s important that our younger generation understands the things that happened and what their parents and forefathers went through in order to provide them the opportunities they have today. A lot of this would not be in place if it hadn’t been for the struggles of yesteryear,” Lawrence says.
He believes that many have not completely grasped the enormity of the situation. “They have a snapshot view but they don’t have a clear understanding of what it was really like,” he said. “You had the symbol of justice in this community, the Dade County Courthouse, . . . and you couldn’t even go into the bathroom or the water fountain. You had to drink from a fountain that was outside on the side of the building or go to the bathroom that was outside, downstairs in the basement area. And that was the Department of Justice,” he exclaims.
François hopes that the exhibit can offer a better understanding of race relations.
“. . . Sometimes we think about American history as a straightforward upward trajectory of progress and it hasn’t been that way. We have long struggled between equality and inequality.”
Lawrence says there has been progress but there are improvements to be made.
“We’ve come a long way but we still have work to do.”
WHAT: “Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow”
WHERE: HistoryMiami Museum, 101 W Flagler St, Miami
WHEN: Through Sunday, Feb. 12. Museum hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday and Tuesday.
COST: Exhibition included with museum admission: $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students with ID, $6 for children 6-12, free admission for museum members and children under the age of 6.
INFORMATION: 305-375-1492 or historymiami.org