Tag Archives: National Museum of African American History and Culture

The Journey to Emancipation: the Germantown Protest, 1688

NMAAHC -- National Museum of African American History and Culture

Lonnie Bunch, museum director, historian, lecturer, and author, is proud to present A Page from Our American Story, a regular on-line series for Museum supporters. It will showcase individuals and events in the African American experience, placing these stories in the context of a larger story — our American story.A Page From Our American Story“Pray, what thing in the world can be done worse towards us, than if men should rob or steal us away, and sell us for slaves to strange countries; separating housbands (sic) from their wives and children.” — from The Germantown Protest (against slavery).

In 1565, the Spanish colony of St. Augustine, in what is now Florida, became the first permanent European settlement in North America. Among the settlement’s population were some of the first enslaved Africans brought to the New World.

The first permanent settlement of African slaves in British Colonial North America arrived in Jamestown, Virginia, via a Dutch slave trading ship in 1619. It wasn’t long before the American colonies found themselves economically dependent on slave trading and enslaved labor.

Emancipation Proclamation Reproduction
Reproduction of the Emancipation
Proclamation at the National Underground
Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.

More than two hundred years later, on January 1, 1863, in the midst of our civil war, Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation would free slaves in the rebellious southern states. The Proclamation, along with the voices and actions of individuals such as Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, William Lloyd Garrison, and others, would ultimately lead to the passage of the 13th Amendment two years later, ending slavery in the United States and freeing nearly four million African Americans.

Reaching that milestone, however, was a long, painful, and bloody process. One of the earliest recorded actions toward ending slavery was taken by a small group of Quakers in Germantown, Pennsylvania Colony, in 1688.

Before slavery truly became institutionalized in the colonies, some Africans were sometimes treated more like indentured servants who were freed once their service ended or debt had been paid, a practice employed at times by various early Dutch and Spanish explorers and settlers. However, this changed dramatically in 1641 when Massachusetts became the first British mainland colony to legalize slavery. From that time forward, colonial slave laws became more restrictive, further codifying the institution.

Not everyone was blind to slavery’s immorality. Although slavery played a major role in the economy of colonial Rhode Island, there were some who tried to temper the practice with a 1652 law that placed restrictions on slave owning and prohibited enslavement of any person for more than 10 years. However, the effect was limited. Slave holders simply sold anyone nearing the deadline and took ownership of new slaves, thus continuing the cycle.

Bas-relief portrait of Francis Daniel Pastorius,
c. 1897. From the Library of Congress.

In 1688, Francis Daniel Pastorius, and three of his fellow Quakers, drafted the first, formal anti-slavery resolution in America. The resolution raised objections to slavery on both moral and practical grounds during a period when Pennsylvania Quakers were nearly unanimous in their acceptance of the practice.

The decree is referred to as “The Germantown Protest,” or “1688 Germantown Quaker Petition Against Slavery.” It articulated themes of justice and equality that would be echoed throughout the long, painful period of slavery in America.

The authors’ premise was based on the biblical “Golden Rule” — treat others as you wish to be treated. Additionally, the authors recognized that colonial slave treatment mirrored the persecution Quakers had seen in Europe, and, to an extent, in the colonies.

“There is a saying, that we should do to all men like as we will be done ourselves; making no difference of what generation, descent, or colour (sic) they are… To bring men hither [to America], or to rob and sell them against their will, we stand against.”

Sadly, “The Germantown Protest” did not spark a significant change in the Americas against slavery. Even within Quaker communities the declaration was ignored, at least initially. But a seed had been planted. A belief shared silently by many was given voice.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. While it is tempting to view the Proclamation solely through the lens of Civil War events, in order to grasp the full context and importance of Lincoln’s decision, we must examine the issue of slavery in the North American colonies from its beginnings. From the Spanish colony in St. Augustine, to the first Dutch ship sailing into Jamestown, and to the Civil War waged to end it, slavery was a 300-plus year institution in America, leaving scars, fortunes, and repercussions we deal with still today.

dd-enews-temp-lonnie-bunch-2.jpg All the best,

Lonnie Bunch

P.S. We can only reach our $250 million goal with your help. I hope you will consider making a donation or becoming a Charter Member today.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is

A Powerful Life: Joe Louis …Lonnie G. Bunch at The NMAAHC in Memory

Lonnie Bunch, museum director, historian, lecturer, and author, is proud to present A Page from Our American Story, a regular on-line series for Museum supporters. It will showcase individuals and events in the African American experience, placing these stories in the context of a larger story — our American story.
A Page From Our American StoryDuring what is often described as boxing’s “Golden Age” — approximately 1930 to 1955 — Joe Louis, the “Brown Bomber,” would become its undisputed king.Not only would Louis dominate his sport during this period, he transcended the color barrier and was cheered by Americans of allraces.Joe Louis Barrow — the grandson of a slave and the great grandson of a slave owner — was born in poverty on May 13, 1914. The Barrow home in Lafayette, Alabama was next to a cotton field. Growing up, Louis and his seven siblings often slept three and four to a bed.The lack of jobs and the violence waged against African Americans by a revived Ku Klux Klan in the South led Louis’ mother, Lily,to take her family and join thousands of blacks in the Great Migration north.Portrait of Joe Louis, Greenwood Lake, N.Y.
September 15, 1941. 
Carl Van Vechten (1880 – 1964).They settled in Detroit, and Joe began learning the craft of cabinet making and taking violin lessons. He was about 11-years-old when a friend introduced him to boxing. As a teenager, Louis gained a reputation as a top-flight amateur fighter. He dropped “Barrow” from his name, hoping to keep his boxing a secret from his mother. But winning 50 of 54 amateur fights – 43 by knockouts — brought headlines on newspaper sports pages in Detroit and around the Midwest. It was impossible to hide his remarkable power, speed, and innate tactical mind — skills that helped Louis become one of the greatest boxers in history.He soon gained the attention of John Roxborough, head of the illegal gambling rackets in the black communities of Detroit. What Roxborough offered Louis was unique to the sport of boxing at the time. Roxborough had watched countless white managers burn out African American fighters before their prime. He promised Louis the best training and opportunities.

Roxborough quickly brought in boxing promoter Julian Black and respected trainer Jack Blackburn to groom Louis for greatness.

Roxborough was true to his word, guiding Louis with care and, in the process, attaining record prize purses — not just for a black boxer, but for boxers of any color. Roxborough was also a keen marketer. The image white America had of African American boxers had been shaped by Jack Johnson. Johnson, though a powerful champion, was viewed as militant and a womanizer, among other things. With “the shadow of Johnson” stalking Louis, Roxborough created a list of “commandments” that Louis would have to follow. These “commandments” included:

  • Never be photographed with a white woman.
  • Never gloat over a fallen opponent.
  • Never engage in fixed fights.
  • Live clean and fight clean.

The public relations strategy worked. Louis’ talent did the rest. As Louis wrote in his autobiography: “Mr. Roxborough was talking about Black Power before it became popular.”

Joe Louis looks for an opening during boxing match
with Max Schmeling. June 20, 1936.
World-Telegram staff photo


His first professional bouts of note were victories against Italian giant Primo Carnera, and American Max Baer, both former champions.

The bout with Carnera foreshadowed how Louis’ life and career would become politicized. Carnera was touted by Benito Mussolini as the symbol of his new, fascist Italy. Louis battered Carnera, winning by knockout in the sixth round.

Louis won 27 professional fights in a row — 23 by knockouts — and was on track to fight “Cinderella Man” James Braddock for the title. However, Louis’ surprising loss to German Max Schmeling on June 19, 1936 temporarily delayed a title shot. Schmeling, who was not a Nazi, was hailed by Adolf Hitler as an example of the superiority of the Aryan race.

Eventually, Louis got his title fight against Braddock, knocking him out on June 22, 1937 and winning the heavyweight crown. After the fight, Malcolm X said, “Every Negro boy who could walk wanted to be the next Brown Bomber.”

Now it was time for Schmeling again. By the late 1930s, Hitler had started his attempt to conquer Europe, and the Louis-Schmeling rematch took on even more meaning. It was reported that Hitler called Schmeling just before the fight and ordered him to win for the sake of Nazi Germany. Louis, despite America’s racial divide, was seen as freedom and democracy’s defender. Franklin Roosevelt invited Louis to the White House. There, more than two years before the United States entered the war, Roosevelt felt Louis’ bicep and said, “Joe, we need muscles like these to defeat Germany.”

It wasn’t a fight between two men; it was a battle of ideologies.

On June 22, 1938 — exactly one year after becoming world champion — Louis dispatched Schmeling two minutes into Round One. Instantly Louis became more than just a champion. At a time when boxing was at its zenith and the heavyweight champion was considered the greatest athlete in the world, Louis achieved even more. He became a hero to Americans of every race and background.

Louis would hold the crown for 12 years — longer than any fighter past or present has held a title in any weight class. At his prime, Louis enlisted in the Army in 1942, where he rose to the rank of sergeant. He fought hundreds of exhibition matches to entertain the troops and raise money for the Armed Services. Louis even donated money to military relief funds.

After the war, Louis won four more fights — two against Jersey Joe Walcott — and retired. He had defended his title 25 times, another record, and only three of those bouts went the distance.

World Heavyweight champ
Joseph Louis Barrow (aka Joe Louis)
sews on the stripes of a technical
sergeant — to which he has been promoted.
April 10, 1945.  US Office of War Information.

Almost two years later, Louis had to change his plans. Louis’ lifestyle — his generosity to friends and family was well known — coupled with his boxing schedule had left little time for keeping track of the accounting, including filing his taxes. Ignoring all that Louis had done for his country during the war, the IRS demanded more than $1 million in back taxes. He stepped back into the ring well past his prime and was pummeled by the current champion, Ezzard Charles. Then, in 1951, Louis was knocked out by Rocky Marciano.

Louis retired from the ring again, but he still needed money to pay the IRS. He took odd jobs, including a stint as a professional wrestler. His last job was as the official greeter at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.

After his boxing career was over, Louis would become good friends with Schmeling. Sports writers respected Louis as much for his kind, generous nature as they did for his boxing brilliance. When he died on April 12, 1981, President Ronald Reagan said Louis was “more than a sports legend — his career was an indictment of racial bigotry and a source of pride and inspiration for people around the world.” Honoring the family’s request, Reagan waived the requirements and Sgt. Joe Louis was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

At the height of his popularity, people said Louis was “a credit to his race.” In response, Boxing Hall of Fame sports writer Jimmy Cannon wrote: “Yes, Joe Louis is a credit to his race — the human race.”

Lonnie Bunch, Director


Patricia Roberts Harris ~ In Memory

National Museum of African American History and Culture
Thanks to some of our sharp-eyed readers, it has come to our attention that several lines had been dropped from our story on Patricia Roberts Harris.

As a result, the information regarding her appointment as Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare and then Secretary of Health and Human Services was incomplete and, without the full wording, inaccurate.

Below, we present the story of Patricia Roberts Harris again, in its entirety.

Many readers also offered kind words for Our American Story, which marked its first anniversary in September. We launched this series to spur discussion and highlight important people and events in the African American story and the role they played in the larger American story. This series also provides a way for us to connect friends throughout the nation who are excited about the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and are eager to get an advance look at some of the stories it will present. Thank you for your wonderful support.

Edison R. Wato, Jr.
Membership Program Manager

Lonnie Bunch, museum director, historian, lecturer, and author, is proud to present A Page From Our American Story, a regular on-line series for Museum supporters. It will showcase individuals and events in the African American experience, placing these stories in the context of a larger story — our American story.
A Page From Our American Story
A Higher Standard: Patricia Roberts Harris
Patricia Roberts Harris sworn in as US Ambassador to Luxembourg
Patricia Harris in her swearing in ceremony
to be the U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg.
Provided by the U.S. State Department.

Dear Friends,

Black women have always served a critical role in the African American community, from the names we all know — Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Rosa Parks — to today’s young mother fighting for educational opportunities for her children. Others have quietly broken barriers to open doors that were once closed to people of color.

Patricia Roberts Harris is one of those quiet warriors whose life stands as a testament to excellence, tenacity, and commitment to change.

She was born on May 31, 1924, the daughter of Hildren and Bert Roberts, in Mattoon, Illinois. A product of Illinois public schools, Harris attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., on scholarship and graduated summa cum laude in 1945. From early in her life as a brilliant scholar at Howard, she went on to become the first African American woman to serve as a United States ambassador and later the first African American woman to serve as a Cabinet Secretary. Harris was a powerful influence in American politics and a major figure during the Civil Rights Movement.

After graduation from Howard, she went back to the mid-west and began graduate work at the University of Chicago in 1946. But the opportunity to become actively involved in working for social justice drew her back to Washington, D.C. She continued her graduate work at American University, and, at the same time, served as assistant director for the American Council of Human Rights. She also served as the first national executive director of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., of which she was a member.

At the encouragement of her husband, William Beasley Harris, a prominent attorney in the District, Harris enrolled in The George Washington University Law School, where she graduated in 1960, first in her class.

During this time, while still active in the fight for civil rights, Harris became increasingly involved in the Democratic Party. Her ability to organize and manage did not go unnoticed. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy selected Harris to co-chair the National Women’s Committee for Civil Rights, described as an “umbrella organization encompassing some 100 women’s groups throughout the nation.”

In October of 1965, President Lyndon Johnson appointed Harris ambassador to Luxembourg, making her the first African American woman to be chosen as a United States envoy. For Harris the historic moment was bittersweet, saying, “I feel deeply proud and grateful this President chose me to knock down this barrier, but also a little sad about being the ‘first Negro woman’ because it implies we were not considered before.”

With the change of administration in 1968, Harris’ diplomatic role ended. She returned to Washington, D.C., and became the first woman to serve as Dean of Howard University’s School of Law.

In the early 1970s, Harris’ involvement in the Democratic Party culminated in her being named chairman of the powerful credentials committee and an at-large-delegate to the Democratic National Convention.

The election of Jimmy Carter in 1976 thrust Harris into the spotlight, again for another “first.” Shortly after taking office in 1977, Carter selected Harris to become Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Again Harris made history, this time by not only becoming the first African American woman to become a Cabinet Secretary, but also the first to be in the line of succession to the Presidency, at number 13.

During her confirmation hearing, Senator William Proxmire challenged her nomination and asked her if she felt capable of representing the interests of the poor and less fortunate in America. By this time in Harris’ life she had established herself as not only a recognized leader for civil rights, but also as a prominent corporate lawyer and businesswoman. Some, including a few black leaders, wondered if Harris had grown out of touch with the very people she was charged with serving.

Harris’ answer silenced her critics and perhaps best explains what motivated her throughout her life:

“Senator, I am one of them. You do not seem to understand who I am. I am a black woman, the daughter of a dining car waiter. …a black woman who could not buy a house eight years ago in parts of the District of Columbia. I didn’t start out as a member of a prestigious law firm, but as a woman who needed a scholarship to go to school. If you think I have forgotten that, you are wrong…if my life has any meaning at all, it is that those who start out as outcasts may end up being part of the system.”

US Postal Stamp of Patricia Roberts Harris

During her tenure as HUD Secretary, she helped reshape the focus of the department. A staunch supporter of housing rehabilitation, Harris funneled millions of dollars into upgrading deteriorating neighborhoods rather than wiping them out through slum clearance. She developed a Neighborhood Strategy Program that subsidized the renovation of apartments in deteriorated areas. In addition, she expanded the Urban Homesteading Plan and initiated Urban Development Action Grants to lure businesses into blighted areas. She poured millions of dollars into renovating deteriorating housing projects throughout the nation.

Harris was so effective at HUD that President Carter appointed her Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) in 1979. When Congress created a separate Education Department in 1980, HEW was renamed Health and Human Services (HHS), and Carter moved quickly to name Harris its Secretary, a position she held for the remainder of his administration.

In 1982, following an unsuccessful bid to become mayor of Washington, D.C., Harris became a full-time professor at The George Washington University National Law Center. She passed away on March 23, 1985 at the age of 60.

In January, 2000, the U.S. Postal Service honored Ms. Harris with a commemorative postage stamp bearing her likeness. Dignitaries from around the nation attended the unveiling ceremony at Howard University, her alma mater, to pay tribute and recognize her contribution to the nation. In addition, Howard created the Harris Public Service Program in her honor to augment its course offerings in public policy and to encourage students to consider careers in public service.

Patricia Roberts Harris’ life is a powerful chapter in our American story. “I am one of them…,” she said at her 1977 hearing to become HUD Secretary. Those words underscored her commitment to social justice and her sense of responsibility to the African American community and to the nation. Those words serve as testament to her life and legacy: political pioneer, successful businesswoman, educator, and champion for civil and equal rights.

All the best,
Lonnie Bunch, Director

Lonnie Bunch
DirectorThe National Museum of African American History and Culture is the newest member of the Smithsonian Institution’s family of extraordinary museums.The Museum will be far more than a collection of objects.
The Museum will be a powerful, positive force in the national discussion about race and the important role African Americans have played in the American story — a museum that will make all Americans proud.


Season’s Greetings … NMAAHC

National Museum of African American History of Culture
Season's Greetings
National Museum of African American History of Culture
As you reunite and celebrate with your loved ones this holiday season, I want to thank you for all that you have done to help build the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
With your support, 2013 has been a great year for the Museum. The future museum site is a frenzy of activity as we continue to raise the walls and support columns. To date, we’ve collected over 23,000 artifacts including two large pieces — a Southern Railway railroad car (segregated) and a guard tower from Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola — that will be a part of our inaugural exhibition on segregation.  All of this progress is thanks to friends like you.
I wish you and your loved ones peace and joy this holiday season and into the New Year.

Lonnie G. Bunch Sincerely, Signature Lonnie G. Bunch Director

Happy Thanksgiving … Edison R. Wato, Jr. National Museum of African American History and Culture.

NMAAHC -- National Museum of African American History and Culture -- Happy Thanksgiving

As Thanksgiving approaches , we are thankful for all that you have done to help build the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Thanks to the help of friends like you, we broke ground in February 2012, and construction is well underway.
In fact, just this past weekend, we installed two signature objects, a Southern Pacific railway car and a 1930s-era guard tower from the Louisiana State Penitentiary, as part of the museum’s inaugural exhibition on segregation.
We are on track to open our doors in late 2015 thanks to your commitment to supporting and sharing African American history and culture with generations to come. From all of us here, we wish you a very happy Thanksgiving.
Sincerely, Edison Wato signature Edison R. Wato, Jr. Membership Program Manager