As it has been said before, it’s important to know the past in order to understand the present and future. There could be nothing more true. And with this past Culture Weekend Staycation in honor of Black History Month, I experienced further enlightenment concerning the history of my country: from the enslavement of African people, to the obstacles surrounding the golden achievements of the Civil Rights movement and our present day existence of equality.
Many emotions were present for me during this weekend: some dark and vacuous, others inspired, hopeful and proud. We in America have definitely come a long way and my hope for our future is a society lacking any sort of discrimination and injustice. This continues to exist in my mind as an obtainable goal and it starts with us. I’m thankful that the events and activities associated with this Culture Weekend Staycation were able to shine a light on the overall history, to include tribulations, sacrifice, and accomplishments of Black people in America.
A Dream Deferred…
The first stop on our Culture Weekend Staycation in honor of Black History Month was the African Burial Grounds in Lower Manhattan. Following a brief viewing of the documentary highlighting the history of the African Burial Grounds, we took a tour of a number of small exhibits featuring stories of African slaves that lived in NYC during the 1700s and artifacts from the African continent that held symbolic significance for the slave population. The most moving exhibit features a wall of the unearthed skeletal remains of approximately 420 slaves that were discovered under the federal building.
The outdoor portion of the memorial was literally around the corner from the indoor exhibit. Global symbols of love, peace and life were incorporated into the memorial which I thought was a nice touch. The Sankofa symbol, of the Akan language in Ghana, and which literally translates to: “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten,” were found interspersed throughout the African Burial Grounds.
The Legendary Schomburg in Harlem…
Next, we headed for the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and viewed the exhibits Africans in India and Visualizing Emancipation, both of which were engaging and informative. The Africans in India exhibit chronicles the lives of East African slaves brought to India and their ascendency from slavery to freedom and subsequent leadership positions in India. What was most interesting to me was how names of the East Africans in India were indicative of their origins; an Indian person with Sidi or Habshi in their name to this current date indicates an African lineage.
Visualizing Emancipation featured images of Blacks in America before and after the Civil War. Did you know that Sojourner Truth was one of the first people to sell her image as a means for raising money for a cause? Truly enterprising.
Soul Food at Amy Ruth’s…
Following the exhibits, we went up a few blocks in Harlem to eat dinner at the renowned Amy Ruth’s. As a Southern transplant in NY, I must say that this is the closest thing to soul food I’ve had since moving here. I ordered The Reggie Harris which is honey dipped fried chicken with two sides of fried okra and collard greens. My husband had the fried shrimp with macaroni and cheese and corn. We also had corn bread to start and sweetened iced tea. Everything was good, but the sweet, savory taste of honey dipped fried chicken was the gold star of the meal. Also impressive was the sweetened iced tea, which I was initially apprehensive about ordering considering the Northeast is known for unsweetened tea, but it tasted like something I’d have back home. The fried okra and collard greens were good, but nothing tops my Mom’s “lurds”. Overall, this restaurant has great soul food options and that’s coming from a true Southern gal!
Family & Fellowship & Feasting ….
The at home portion of my Culture Weekend Staycation: Black History Month in NYC consisted of a soul food meal (if you’d like the recipes) with family over discussion about Black History Month. Though we didn’t get the opportunity to specifically discuss how civil rights impacted our lives, various family members did share their experiences about growing up during a time when civil rights were being negotiated.
Earlier in the day, my son and I had the opportunity to work on pictures to include in our family tree. This activity provided an opportunity for discussion about what family is and heritage. We’re still in the process of filling up the frames :).
My final activity consisted of watching two Independent Lens, a Public Broadcasting Show series, documentaries highlighting influential figures in Black History. The Powerbroker: Whitney Young’s Fight for Civil Rights chronicles the life of an unsung civil rights activist who had wisdom well beyond his years. Mr. Young is referred to as a “powerbroker” because unlike some of the more well known civil rights activist, Young appealed to the business sense of powerful white corporate leaders as a means for improving conditions for Black America. Another unsung civil rights leader is featured in Daisy Bates: The First Lady of Little Rock. You may not have heard of Mrs. Bates, but she was instrumental in integrating schools in Little Rock, Arkansas. Both documentaries were prolific and informative. Then again, Independent Lens never lets me down! I’m so thankful to PBS for this series.
Spending quality time with family and expanding my world view through enriching activities makes for an incredible Culture Weekend.