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.