“Feeling” History

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“Mama! Mama? Have you seen our Mama?” 

It’s been several days since I’ve been back from Montgomery, Alabama, where I spent some time at the Legacy Museum, but those words are still haunting me. Just a few minutes into our walk through the darkness past the eerie representation of holding cells with holograms of enslaved people in the Museum, Cheryl Grills, my sister-collaborator from the Association of Black Psychologists, whispered to me to be sure to stop at the pen with holograms of the children. 

They were about five and seven years old, a boy and a girl, standing together, afraid, crying out for their mother. I walked up to the bars just as two real-life Black children, who were part of a student tour, were moving away, slowly, heads bowed, on to the next pen. They, too, were crying.

Most museums are good at sharing information and sparking conversation. The Legacy Museum stands in a place where enslaved people were actually “warehoused.” From the holograms to the sacred jars of soil collected from sites all around the country where Black people were lynched, this Museum does an extraordinarily good job of helping visitors to “feel.”

I left there with tears in my eyes, having “felt” the spirits of the men, women, and children who had been held captive in that place. 

So much of the struggle for civil rights has focused on the quest for freedom for Black people. I appreciate the Legacy Museum because it raises the even deeper question of what enslavement and Jim Crow did to the humanity of Black people. I left with a renewed and deepened appreciation for the humanity of the men, women, and children I revere as the “amazing people who made a way out of no way.”  

If you go to Montgomery, and I highly recommend that you do, start at the Legacy Museum. It will ground you and give more profound meaning to every other site you visit on the city’s Civil Rights Trail.   

By Enola G. Aird, CHN President and Founder

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