Where do I start?
How do I explain to you the profound emotional experience I had while visiting the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History?
Dear reader, I wept.
We started with And Still We Rise: Our Journey Through African American History and Culture, the permanent exhibit at the Wright. I wept. The exhibit takes us from the African origins of early Man, through the thriving African cultures, across the ocean because of the slave trade, and concludes with the civil rights movement of the 20th century and some prominent modern Michigan events. I felt incredibly moved as I walked through the history: at times tragic, at times troubling, at times triumphant. And I wept.
Before leaving we also checked out the travelling exhibit, Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty. A single room contained all the documents and artifacts presented. We gained within that room a deeper understanding of the paradox presented by the varying levels of freedom and privilege. While my children have not yet been to Monticello, the older ones knew enough of the history and norms of the time to understand the exhibit. For myself and my inlaws, who have been to Monticello several times, we found the depth and the nuance presented to be helpful.
The Wright Museum does not allow photography in any of the exhibit halls; as a consummate photog I expected this to be a difficult rule to follow. However I was so immersed that I hardly felt a desire to stop and take a picture. (Two exceptions: those African beads! the African American quilts!)
The rotunda, through which you enter and exit the building, is, however, photographable. And it is stunning. My kids loved the echo. I loved how the light from above infused the whole space. But when we returned to the rotunda on our way out, it meant so much hope and peace for me. As humans our path is sometimes dark. Our history is full of horrific events. I wonder if even now we are on the right path. Have we learned from the past?
My children walked through the rotunda, bathed in sunlight. They were headed to the gift shop before we left. To them it was the logical, almost mundane, next step. However to me it was a glimpse of hope, of a peaceful future. May our future be better than our past. I concluded my visit inspired and hopeful.