Tavis Smiley Launches Black History Exhibit

America I AM features historic relics from the past


Tavis Smiley, right, is the curator of America I AM, an exhibit that highlights African American history.

A courageous speech that helped catapult a little-known senator into the halls of the White house; 18thh century iron shackles that once subdued human cargo traversing the Atlantic; and a key that locked the cell of an activist but helped spawn one of the most eloquent letters known of a generation—they’re pieces of American history.

These relics will be on display at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia starting today. The exhibit, America I AM, was curated by author and Journalist Tavis Smiley.

“W.E.B. DuBois asked, ‘Would America have been American without her Negro people?” Smiley says. “We put together the biggest, badest, boldest exhibit to tell the story of African American’s contributions to America.”

The exhibition showcases 500 years of landmark events and milestone made by blacks and covers more than 13,000 square feet. Smiley says he’s received a substantial number of items to display including Rat Pack crooner Sammy Davis Jr.’s tap shoes, an autographed copy of President-elect Barack Obama’s “Speech on Race,” and a letter from President Abraham Lincoln to Frederick Douglas.

Smiley says he secured over 300 pieces for this walk through history and will be swapping items out on this touring exhibition. The pieces will be on display in Philadelphia through May 3, before continuing its 10-city four-year tour.  Smiley would not reveal which cities the exhibition will hit.

“We can’t celebrate Obama without celebrating the back story to Obama,” Smiley says. The layout includes seven galleries and four theaters of video and pieces that help tell the history of blacks in America.

  • Mary Brown

    I saw the exhibit when it opened yesterday and it is absolutely amazing; a wonderful history lesson that brings our experience right into modern day. The final video in the exhibit is award-worthy. It’s so worth spending the time to reflect and celebrate, not just our current, but also our past achievements. Great Job Tavis.

  • Marianne Stormer

    Mr. Smiley, I’m so glad you’ve created a display of our history.

    I’m a college professor, and author. I hope you bring your exhibit to Cleveland, Ohio. I would help promote the event.

    I would like to send you a copy of my new book titled,” Lost Men Found, Mixed Races”. The book was previously titled, “Niggerology: Deliverance from the fruits of Evil”. It’s about three men on a search to find out why the pains in their lives hurt so badly.

    But, people didn’t get it; “ology” is the study of a word about a people. The book is a historical fiction book about our history, what is happening in our culture.

    Our young people are still hurting because they don’t know their history. Who they are or where they come from. We must continue the dialogue because some young and older people don’t know they are descendants of Africans. As researcher John Hendrik Clark said, “There is no negro-land to go back to.”

  • Vanessa McCray

    Please up-date me on events to attend. Thank you

  • clem van heyningen

    I would like to know when it will be in Miami or Olando

  • Renita Burns

    Tour dates for the exhibit have not been announced yet

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  • wanda bisor

    Please schedule for the exhibit for Texas (Houston) .

  • Janae simmons

    I heard so many great positive things about this event;I can’t wait to see it.

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