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Maryland African American Life:
Labor that Built a Nation, Family and Community, and Culture/Arts and Enlightenment

The permanent exhibition will be set into three galleries: Labor that Built a Nation, Family and Community, and Culture/Arts and Enlightenment. According to the Inaugural Exhibition Summary, there are four major themes throughout the museum. First, African Americans created an important and impressive legacy. Second, African Americans struggle for self-determination. Third, African Americans' sense of identity is personal and collective. Fourth, facing oppression is constant.

Work (Labor that Built a Nation)

For two centuries slaves endured cruel and animal-like treatment building what is today the state of Maryland. Brought to America for their use of labor, slaves picked up valuable skills that would later help them to freedom. According to the summary, work on the water, tobacco cultivation and iron working were common work for Marylanders of African descent.

Visitors will be able to view an oyster boat with images of seafood gatherers projected on a sail as well as hear spirituals sung by female seafood workers. They will have the chance to stand in a tobacco barn listening to tobacco workers talk about the significance of the tobacco industry in the African American community.

“A tobacco family in Calvert County who started as share croppers did well enough to purchase their own land and cultivate their own crops. This family business provided enough money to send their grandchildren to college,” said Exhibit Manager Margaret Hutto.

Hutto shows how African Americans took the little bit they were given to make easier lives for their families.

Ironwork will also be featured. This ancient African skill goes back long before the African slaves labored at the iron furnaces of Maryland.

Family and Community

Family and Community serve as strong counteracts to oppression. A sense of hope and faith combined with a feeling of comfort and support make it easier to live in an unwelcoming society. Before any mention of a civil rights movement, preachers were inspiring and encouraging members of the population. Soon communities were banning together to form organizations that could better tackle issues of injustice.

Visitors will be able to stand in a community church where they may hear Noah Davis speak. Davis raised funds to purchase family members from slavery by preaching at churches along the East Coast.

“Visitors will be able to view manumission papers. These are the official documents that freed African Americans during slavery. [Slaves] either raised funds so that they were allowed to purchase their own freedom or they were free upon the death of their owner,” said Hutto.

Visitors can also stand in a slave cabin and listen to former slaves talk about the importance of family bonds.


Culture/Art and Enlightenment

African Americans used their creativity to express and combat the pain and struggle of inequality. Unpleasant emotions transformed into beautiful paintings, thoughtful writings and new genres of music. Art provided for a source of communication, inspiration and escape.

With minimal resources, African American Marylanders created an oasis of culture at Baltimore's Pennsylvania Avenue. The Avenue launched the careers of Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday and Eubie Blake. Visitors are able to stroll down a recreated Pennsylvania Avenue and enjoy great artists from Joyce Scott and the Arena Players to Hip-Hop performers.

Freedom writers such as Benjamin Banneker, Fredrick Douglas and Lucille Clifton are also featured in the gallery.

“Benjamin Banneker's original letters to Thomas Jefferson, who was Secretary of the State at the time, will be on display for visitors,” said Hutto.

There will also be an opportunity for visitors to write a creative piece on an issue facing them or the world.

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A window to the past and an investment in the future:: The Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture is an innovative and entertaining museum that has teamed up with the Maryland State Department of Education to create a brighter future.

Making a brighter future:: The Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture has teamed up with the Maryland Department of Education to reach more than 850,000 students and 50,000 teachers.