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Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History November 5, 2018

Posted by flashbuzzer in History.
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I recently visited the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit. The museum showcases the history of African-Americans.

Here are five nuggets that I gleaned from my time at the museum.

1. The kingdom of Benin was ruled by an oba and a iyoba (queen mother). The oba wore coral beads to evoke the power of the sea god, Olokun. Images of leopards were used to convey the strength of the oba. If an oba died without producing a male heir, then the son of the sister of the iyoba would assume the throne.

2. Coleman Young was raised in Black Bottom. After graduating from Eastern High School, he worked in the Ford Rouge plant and later served as a Tuskegee Airman. He achieved the following milestones as an African-American:

3. The 12th Street Riots, which were apparently sparked by a police raid of a blind pig during a party for returning Vietnam veterans, actually stemmed from discontent among the black community in Detroit concerning:

  • restrictive covenants in white neighborhoods
  • the destruction of many homes in black neighborhoods to facilitate the construction of the Chrysler Freeway in 1957
  • high rents for public housing
  • white flight, which hastened the depletion of the tax base of Detroit.

4. Henry Ford hired William Perry as his first African-American employee in 1914. Ford later hired other African-Americans; many of them resided in Inkster, which Ford helped modernize by installing basic services such as plumbing and electricity. His record on race relations was complicated, though. For example, his African-American employees were compelled to perform dangerous tasks, including the casting of molds. He also rejected their labor demands – as part of his broader struggle against labor unions – until 1941.

5. The transatlantic slave trade had its fair share of setbacks, including:

  • a successful revolt on the slave ship Marlborough, which was led by 28 slaves who had been entrusted with the task of sailing that ship; some of them were able to return to Africa, while the fate of the rest is unknown
  • a tragedy on the slave ship Zong, where slaves were thrown overboard to preserve limited supplies and check the spread of disease (the shipowners later made a claim to their insurers for the loss of their slaves); this incident was publicized by Olaudah Equiano.

The museum featured several thought-provoking exhibits, including an exhibit that presented African-American history in the context of human history. One room of that exhibit contained the hold of a slave ship, where the placement of several mannequins helped me grasp the inhumane conditions that slaves endured on their transatlantic voyages. I appreciated the meticulous design of that vast exhibit.

I don’t have any quibbles with the museum at this time.

Overall I enjoyed my time at the museum, and I would recommend it to tourists in Detroit.