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Black Civil War soldiers remembered in treasured portraits from rare historic photographs

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Marvin Mescher looks at a new exhibit Saturday, March 30, 2019, at Fort Negley visitor center that features portraits of 17 African-American men who served as soldiers in the Civil War. (Photo: Larry McCormack / The Tennessean)
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Solomon Frister, a dark-eyed, dark-complected farmhand from northern Pennsylvania, enlisted in the United States Colored Troops when he was 26 years old.

He served as a private, and later a corporal in the Civil War alongside thousands of African American men, many of whom had once been enslaved. And when the war was over, he eventually found his way to Tennessee.

He is said to have attended Fisk University, to have gotten married several times, to have raised many children, working as an engineer, a shoemaker and a carpenter, while also serving as a minister of the gospel.

Frister is believed to be buried here, in the neglected overgrowth of Mount Ararat, the first African American cemetery in Middle Tennessee.

But the grounds are gated and locked, and not many markers are left now. Most have sunk or have fallen over.

View more @ Tennessean 

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Upcoming programs at National Museum of African American History and Culture

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Army Blues

Musical Crossroads: Featuring the U.S. Army Blues Jazz Ensemble

Sunday, May 19, at 3 p.m.

The U.S. Army Blues Jazz Ensemble performs with guest vocalists Sharón Clark, Michael Croan, and U.S. Army Band member Sgt. Major Christal Rheams singing iconic songs made popular by artists including Nina Simone, Curtis Mayfield, Sam Cooke, and many more. Part of the U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own,” the U.S. Army Blues are the premier jazz ensemble of the United States Army.

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Say Amen

Through the African American Lens: Say Amen, Somebody!

Thursday, May 23, at 7 p.m.

See the U.S. premiere of the newly restored and preserved digital version of the critically acclaimed documentary, Say Amen, Somebody (1983). Directed by George Nierenberg, Say Amen, Somebody explores the lives and music of the pioneers of modern gospel music through interviews and performances by some of its most renowned musicians.

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School chair

Step by Step: The Ruby Bridges Suite

Saturday, June 1 at 1 p.m. & 3 p.m. 

Darrell Grant’s Step by Step: The Ruby Bridges Suite is a musical suite comprised of nine musical movements framed by narratives that tell the story of Ruby Bridges, the trailblazing six-year-old African American girl who integrated the New Orleans Public Schools in 1960. Images of the young girl escorted by federal marshalls as she made her way to school have become iconic symbols of the Civil Rights Movement.

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District Treasures

What’s Your Story? Researching, Writing, and Publishing Your Family History

Saturday, June 8, at 12 p.m.

Linda Crichlow White, author of Back There, Then: A Historical and Genealogical Memoir, will offer examples of how family and community histories have impacted everyday people. Ms. White will explain the writing and publishing steps she used and will offer suggestions for others considering producing similar work. To attend, RSVP via email to familyhistorycenter@si.edu.

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Inclusion

A Seat at the Table: “The Concept of Well-Being”

New date! Friday, June 28, at 6:45 p.m.

Panelists will gather to explore ways to maintain a sense of well-being — including thankfulness, contentment, and fulfillment — during periods of communal and personal upheaval. Invited panelists include author, artist, and community educator HawaH and Rev. Teddy Reeves from NMAAHC’s Center for the Study of African American Religious Life. Registration fee includes a family-style dinner and beverages.  Registration opens May 15.

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Please visit our Events page for upcoming public programs!

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Entrepreneurship

“Boss: The Black Experience in Business” Explores the History of African American Entrepreneurship

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The history of business and entrepreneurship lies at the heart of the American story, but often absent from that narrative are the experiences of African Americans. From the country’s earliest days, African Americans have embodied the qualities of innovation, risk-taking and determination to forge a path toward a better life. The new two-hour documentary traces the lives of African American entrepreneurs over 150 years, from those bound by bondage to moguls at the top of million-dollar empires. Boss: The Black Experience in Business” is now airing on local PBS affiliates and can be viewed online.

Directed by Peabody– and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Stanley Nelson (Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Historically Black CollegesThe Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution and Freedom Summer), “Boss: The Black Experience in Business” shines a light on the story of resilience and resistance within the black American experience in the face of racial hostility and violence, economic exclusion, segregation and discrimination.

Tying together the past and the present, “Boss: The Black Experience in Business” explores the inspiring stories of trailblazing African American entrepreneurs and the significant contributions of contemporary business leaders. Stories featured in the film include those of entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker, publisher John H. Johnson, Motown CEO Berry Gordy, and business pioneer and philanthropist Reginald F. Lewis, among others. The film features new interviews with Vernon Jordan, senior managing director of Lazard, Freres & Co. LLC.; Cathy Hughes, CEO and founder of Urban One; Ursula Burns, former CEO of Xerox and chairman of VEON; Ken Frazier, chairman, president and CEO of Merck & Co., Inc.; Richelieu Dennis, founder, CEO and executive chairman of Sundial Brands; Robert F. Smith, chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Managing Partners, LLC; Earl “Butch” Graves, Jr.,  CEO of Black Enterprise; and John Rogers, CEO and founder of Ariel Investments.

As a capitalist system emerged in the United States, African Americans found ways to establish profitable businesses in numerous industries, including financial services, retail, beauty, music and media. “Boss: The Black Experience in Business” brings viewers on a journey from the end of Reconstruction through the present, tracing the emergence of a stable black business community alongside the greater struggle for civil rights.

Notable historians and scholars help tell the story, including Mehrsa Baradaran, author, The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap; A’Lelia Bundles, journalist, historian and author of On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. WalkerMarcia Chatelain, Associate Professor of History and African American Studies at Georgetown UniversityMark Anthony Neal, Professor of Black Popular Culture in the Department of African and African-American Studies at Duke UniversityJane Rhodes, Professor of African American History, University of Illinois at Chicago; and Juliet EK Walker, Professor of History, University of Texas at Austin.

“African Americans have played a central role in the history of American business, but their stories are often left untold,” said Nelson.

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James Baldwin’s words still resonate

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Lonnie G. Bunch III, Museum director, historian, lecturer, and author, is proud to present a page from Our American Story, a regular online series for Museum supporters. It showcases individuals and events in the African American experience, placing these stories in the context of a larger story—our American story.

A Writer Is by Definition a Disturber of the Peace

“One writes out of one thing only—one’s own experience,” the author James Baldwin penned in his 1955 collection of essays on issues of race in America and Europe, Notes of a Native Son. “Everything depends on how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give.”

Baldwin’s poetic words foretold an immense body of literature that, in the decades to come, would probe the American conscience through his own lens as a black, gay man raised in the impoverished neighborhoods of Harlem. But the human condition that Baldwin so masterfully observes and interrogates in his writings transcends his own place in history, and proves still relevant many generations after their publication.

Born in 1924, Baldwin was the eldest of nine children brought up in a household struggling to rise during the most punishing economic depression in the nation’s history. As a teenager, he followed his stern stepfather into the clergy, but soon broke away from the pulpit to pursue a passion for writing with the encouragement of Harlem Renaissance artist and life-long friend Beauford Delany.

James Baldwin passport

United States passport belonging to James Baldwin, August 2, 1965

Those early years engulfed in poverty and religion would influence Baldwin’s work for life, even as they took him far from the streets that forged him. In 1948, he followed the path of fellow writer Richard Wright and numerous African American artists before him to Europe.

Fleeing the racial oppression of America gave Baldwin the distance to examine his homeland—and his identity within it—with a keen and uncompromising eye that would define his work.

From his residence in France, Baldwin authored his debut novel Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953) and the progressive novel Giovanni’s Room(1956), which stoked controversy for its exploration of same-sex love. From 1961 to 1971, Istanbul became the backdrop for Baldwin’s writing. A city situated at the cultural crossroads of East and West, it was there that he wrote such renowned works as the novel Another Country (1962), essays The Fire Next Time (1963), and play Blues for Mister Charlie (1964). From abroad, he wrote about America’s structural, cultural, and physical violence against African Americans and other marginalized groups.

Despite his distance, Baldwin and his work remained deeply American. He returned often to the United States as a speaker and activist during the most tumultuous years of the Civil Rights Movement. And he remained in frequent communication with civil rights leaders living in the U.S. through letters, many of which are preserved at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in its Making a Way Out of No Way exhibit. Alongside the mixed media of Baldwin’s passport, manuscripts, and photographs, these letters offer an intimate window into an author who already shared so much of himself.

James Baldwin and Joan Baez

James Baldwin and Joan Baez in Selma

Baldwin participated in the March on Washington (1963), marched from Selma to Montgomery (1965), and testified before Congress in 1968 in support of a bill that would ultimately lead to the creation of the Museum.

“A writer is by definition a disturber of the peace. He has to be,” Baldwin said later. “He has to make you ask yourself, make you realize that you are always asking yourself, questions that you don’t know how to face.”

The themes of Baldwin’s most notable works, the struggle for racial and sexual equality and its toll on the individual, still resonate with audiences more than 30 years after his death in 1987.

As the Museum’s Director, I have been proud to invite all Americans to honor Baldwin’s work and witness his words told on screen. Among the multiple events we’ve held illuminating Baldwin’s contributions, we hosted director Raoul Peck for a discussion of I Am Not Your Negro, a 2016 Oscar-nominated documentary rooted in Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript of personal recollections of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr., Remember This House. We were especially delighted to welcome Baldwin’s niece and nephew for that viewing.

These events help our Museum guests to connect the contributions of great African American public intellectuals and writers like Baldwin to our understanding of society as it exists today.

All the best,

dd-sustainerlanding-2014-lonnie-bunch.jpgLonnie G. Bunch III

Lonnie G. Bunch III
Founding Director

P.S. James Baldwin’s work continues to resonate with audiences today, and the Museum is dedicated to connecting individuals with artifacts and stories from Baldwin’s life. Please help the Museum continue to celebrate the lives of leaders not only during Black History Month, but 365 days a year, by joining as a Member of the Museum or making a donation today.

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