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Why is It Important to Study African American History

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This Monday I attended the National Museum of African American History and Culture. I choose to go to this site for my reflection essay because I felt that seeing this museum in person would be an amazing opportunity for me to learn not only about the history of my predecessors, but to explore African American culture innovatively. The museum opened its doors in 2016 and is apart of the Smithsonian collection. Anything from Harriet Tubman’s shawl, to the casket of Emmitt Till, and Oprah Winfrey’s studio couch can be seen when you visit the museum. With such a wide range of exhibitions on display, I was able to go through the time and see just how impactful slavery was to not only this country but to the world and relate it to this course’s standards.

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Divided into several floors that all cover a different historical period, the section on slavery and Freedom from 1400-1877 stood out the most to me. Located on the lowest section of the museum, this exhibit accounts for the slave trade that took place from the 15th century to the Civil War era. The exchange of goods, culture, and knowledge across the Atlantic connected people from different regions. However, enslaved Africans, primarily from the western region, became an extreme commodity. Gold, salt, and spices were the original intent of the first European explorers but as the global economy shifted, the demand changed to sugar, cotton, coffee, tobacco, and rice. The cultivation of these products caused extreme physical demands and torture devices, such as whips, were used to ensure plantation profits. The average lifespan during this time for slaves was about seven years. However, before slaves reached the plantation fields they were packaged head to toe in slave ships. Men, women, and children were forced in overcrowded ships famously referred to as the Middle Passage. To account for those who would not survive the voyage they were placed as tight as possible leaving no room to sit or stand. Seeing the graphics and display of the Middle Passage was heartbreaking and it is truly disturbing that these events could be done to a race of people for financial gains. Once African people reached America they were immersed in different physical and social environments with unwanted new identities.

Even though I was able to connect what I had previously learned in class to what was in front of me at each exhibit, I was also able to learn something about new topics that had not been covered in-class lectures. The people from the Bight of Biafra represented almost one-quarter of all enslaved Africans who were brought to North America. This region covers modern-day Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon. Among them was the Igbo ethnic group. They were known for having a decentralized government, unique traditions in ironwork and agriculture. What made the Igbo known for their resilience was their preference for death than to be considered a slave. They often committed suicide to join their ancestors in their native land when confronted with slavery.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture and i really think is it important to study african american history . My favorite attractions throughout the visit were Emitt Till’s casket and the Jim Crow railroad car. Both of these exhibits gave me the ability to place myself in this time and feel the pain of what innocent people who looked just like me endured daily. One of the reasons why I chose to attend a Historically Black Institution was to get familiar with my roots and culture. Assignments like this challenge me to think beyond the struggles of my generation and to reason with the generations that came before me. With that being said, I am grateful to have this opportunity to learn about the rich culture that being black has to offer. 

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