Kids lead the way for anniversary

Lewis museum celebrates first year

June 26, 2006|By LAURA MCCANDLISH | LAURA MCCANDLISH,SUN REPORTER

BALTIMORE & REGION — With their two young sons leading the way, Uruba and Earl Simmons were making their first visit to the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture.

Though the museum in downtown Baltimore was celebrating its first anniversary yesterday, the boys - Katura, 11, and Tariq, 8 - had already been there with their classes from the City Neighbors Charter School in Northeast Baltimore.

"I'm trying to take my time, but since they've seen it all before, they're rushing through," said Uruba Simmons, 34. "I'm really going through everything. It's enlightening. It makes you realize how much you have, and how much you lost."

Baltimore's schoolchildren have made up the bulk of the visitors to the $34 million museum, and it seemed the children were bringing their families for the museum's celebration - called Freedom Weekend 2006, which featured $1 admission, performances and arts and crafts, and which organizers hope will become an annual event.

"What I've been most pleased with is the fact that many visitors this weekend were return visitors, primarily the children," said David Taft Terry, executive director of the Lewis museum since April. Terry was joined by his wife, Alisia Ferguson, and their children David, 5, and Grace, 10 months.

On Saturday night, the museum held an anniversary reception that honored three area African-Americans: the Rev. Harold A. Carter Sr. of New Shiloh Baptist Church and the Rev. Alfred C.D. Vaughn of Sharon Baptist Church, both in Baltimore; and Kimberly Oliver, the Silver Spring elementary school teacher named National Teacher of the Year for 2006.

In addition to the museum's exhibits, the 1,500-plus visitors over the weekend were offered birthday cake and enjoyed East African storytelling, Underground Railroad puppet shows and face painting with ancient African symbols.

The African-American history curriculum that the museum has developed for fourth through eighth grades has provided the children a context to tap into when they visit, Terry and some of his staff members said.

Having read novels such as Mildred D. Taylor's Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry - which chronicles the struggles of a poor black family living in Depression-era Mississippi - Katura Simmons gravitated toward an exhibit on black farmers in America. What did he learn?

"How they lost their land, with the corporations coming in and taking it from them, just leaving them sitting there," Katura said.

Another exhibit, featuring black athletes of decades past, grabbed Katura's friend Jared Hester, 7.

Jared's mother, L'Tanya Crosby, lingered by a case displaying the manumission document that granted freedom to slave Isaac Dorsey.

"Matter of fact, we've still got our paper, from when my great-great-grandfather became a freed slave," Crosby said. She said John Davie was granted his freedom in Chester, S.C., as a child.

"You make sure you tell those boys about that," Nancy D. Barrick, one of the museum's docents, said to Crosby. "That's so important. Hold on to it or give it to a museum."

A documentary film and related display on lynching captivated Karen Atkins, 45, her daughter Shelbe Hudson, 14, and Shelbe's friend Kayla Ervin, 14. A simulated tree above the TV monitor seemed to evoke Billie Holiday's song, "Strange Fruit."

"Oh, my goodness," Atkins said upon reading a poster stating that 3,436 people were lynched between 1889 and 1922. "To actually see and hear some of these statistics - it's phenomenal," Atkins said. "It's not until you visit places like this that you really get the full impact. It's really deep."

laura.mccandlish@baltsun.com

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