Earlier this month, Malala Yousafzai made history as the youngest Nobel Peace Prize Winner ever at age 17. Yousafzai is a Pakistani activist for female education rights and has been engaged in activist work since she was only 11 years old! She began by writing blogs for the BBC about her life under Taliban rule and her views on the importance of education for girls all over the world but especially in her country. After Yousafzai was profiled in a New York Times documentary, she rose to fame as a speaker promoting education for girls in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. Tragically, as Yousafzai was headed to school one morning, she was shot in the face by a gunman and remained in critical condition for several months. After rehabilitation, Yousafzai was healthy enough to continue her activist work, giving speeches and interviews for women’s education rights and her tragic story provided even more impetus for people to believe in and support her cause. What was called an assassination attempt on Yousafzai’s life caused the United Nations to launch a campaign calling for the education of all children worldwide and eventually led to Pakistan’s first Right to Education Bill.
Yousafzai has won numerous awards in addition to her most recent Nobel Peace Prize including being named one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2013. Her story is one of inspiration, courage and perseverance. Yousafzai believed in her cause and did whatever she could to get her message out there. As a young girl, she may have thought that there was nothing she could do or that no one would listen to her message but even a small action such as writing a blog entry led to bigger and bigger platforms for her to advocate for equal educational opportunities for all children. Malala Yousafzai’s story proves that anyone and everyone has the power to fight for change and inclusive freedom for people all over the world.
Brittany Vernon, IMLS Coca Cola Museum Studies Apprentice
Image: Malala Yousafzai, The Vancouver Sun.
As an museum apprentice at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, one part of my job is to go through the museum every day to make sure every single aspect of each exhibition is functioning, undamaged and ready for a day of visitor interaction. I carefully walk into each exhibition as if I am visiting the museum for the first time, looking at every text panel, listening to all of the audio panels, manipulating all of the interactive displays and watching a small bit of each film. As I check items off on my list, I sometimes get quizzical looks from visitors wondering about my curious behavior. To be honest, if I wasn’t the one doing my job I would also find it strange to see someone pressing every single button and looking so closely at displays. But I try to normalize the experience for the people around me by explaining what I’m doing, and that is usually met with praise and awe that I’m lucky enough to explore our awesome exhibits every day.
Another aspect of daily museum walkthroughs is collecting the surveys from the Invisible: Slavery Today exhibition and the guest book reflections from the And Still We Rise exhibition. Every question, comment or concern gets read by me and entered into our records every day. In And Still We Rise, many people commented in hopes that the exhibit could travel to other states and now that it’s run here at the Freedom Center has ended, I am happy to say it is currently traveling all across the country on a two-year tour! In Invisible: Slavery Today, many commenters reflect on the surprising facts of modern day slavery that make them want to become involved as an abolitionist- so great news! There are now updated fact sheets at the end of the gallery and a new website, which list ways you can get involved.
Every visitor and all feedback is extremely appreciated and helpful in determining the future of our exhibitions so please continue to visit and let us know what you think!
-Brittany Vernon, IMLS Coca Cola Museum Studies Apprentice
Image: A shot of the new Freedom Center exhibition, Foto Focus: New Voices.
Now that I've been at the Freedom Center for almost a year, regaling you with exciting behind-the-scenes tales of collections and exhibits, it's time to introduce myself.
I'm Gina Armstrong, one of the IMLS Coca-Cola Museum Studies Apprentices at the Freedom Center. I come to the Freedom Center fresh off a masters of library and information studies (MLIS), with an archival concentration, at the University of Alabama. Your next question is probably "How did you get from Alabama to Cincinnati? How did you even know about the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center?" Excellent questions. I have long been a social justice advocate, and spent my practicum time in graduate school working with the archives at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. The longing for freedom is just in my blood, I guess. I also have a longtime friend who has lived in the area for close to 20 years, so I'd been to visit the Freedom Center a couple of times before learning of the apprenticeship and applying.
As an archivist, my primary interest is in the artifacts themselves -- "the stuff," as I like to call it. With my information background, I want to make sure that the artifacts are stored, cataloged, and described in the best way to make them easy to access, both for visitors and staff. I've long been an obsessive list-maker and user of databases, so cataloging and describing material comes naturally to me and makes me happy in the best nerdy way.
Outside of work, I am a voracious reader, a fan of punk and '80s music, and a rabid fan of the New Orleans Saints. It will also come as no shock that New Orleans is my favorite city in the country, if not the world. I am a inveterate traveller, and I've been all over the U.S., to Brazil and Zimbabwe on service trips, Great Britain on study and pleasure trips several times, Germany a few times on visits with friends and pleasure trips, and Italy, Peru, and Paris for pure pleasure. It will perhaps not be very surprising that I'd like to visit the three other continents I've never seen.
I'm excited to continue my apprenticeship at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center for the next 12 months, learning more and more about museum work while fulfilling my passion for "the stuff."
-Gina Armstrong, IMLS Coca Cola Museum Studies Apprentice
Image: Gina Armstrong inside Senzeni Na? Selected Photos from Mandela! Struggle and Triumph.
“OK, so who are the most important people at the Freedom Center?” I asked the Youth Docents. We were doing a training on communication and customer service, and to be honest the answer I was fishing for was “visitors.” The first answer I got, however, was an important reminder.
“The people in the exhibits. The abolitionists and conductors.” Of course, this Youth Docent was right! Our visitors, our audience, the community we work in and seek to educate are very important. But so are the Freedom Heroes whose stories we tell. It reminded me of a college professor who used to tell us that we studied history “to honor the lived experiences” of the people we read about.
Why should we honor their experiences? Because the Freedom Heroes are inspiring – but they are much more than an inspiration. Freedom Heroes from abolitionists to Civil Rights activists were trailblazers who risked their reputations and their lives for a more just and free society. We would not be where we are today without their courage and perseverance.
Yet most of these people never received recognition in their lifetimes. Just the opposite, in fact: many were ridiculed, outcast, threatened or confronted with violence. Many abolitionists were heckled and threatened when speaking in public. Several Civil Rights leaders were assassinated for their activism. Because of the challenging and often thankless work they did, we owe it to them to honor their stories, just as we owe it to future generations to continue the struggle.
- Nancy Yerian, AmeriCorps Member, Ohio History Service Corps
Over the past two and a half months, the Freedom Center’s Youth Docents have been acting as guides and educators in our museum. They have been putting their training to use by helping visitors learn from the Freedom Center’s exhibits. On a typical day, a Youth Docent might talk to guests about the original Slave Pen in our Grand Hall or demonstrate how a cotton gin works. They might teach visitors that slavery still exists today or show a family their favorite story quilt in the And Still We Rise exhibit.
Learning to communicate with the public is not always easy. For some of our teen volunteers, the idea that they were going to have to talk to people was pretty intimidating. Fortunately, practice makes perfect. I recently observed one of our docents enthusiastically demonstrating a hands-on activity to a family. It was wonderful to watch him easily talking to these people because only a few weeks ago he was so nervous that he could barely speak in front of a group. It is amazing to watch this batch of young people gain confidence feel comfortable with the material they know.
Of course training has not stopped completely. The Youth Docents have had a few special experiences since their service began. They have visited Historic New Richmond, Ohio, and participated in Conner Prairie’s “Follow the North Star” interactive program. After each trip, they have discussed what they learned and how it connects to their lives. These dialogues have allowed the Youth Docents to share their observations, thoughts, and feelings about these subjects with each other, and hear perspectives they may not have considered before.
One of the Youth Docent Program’s goals is that through their experiences, youth will be inspired to take action to change our world today. In fact, this is part of the Freedom Center's mission: “challenging and inspiring everyone to take courageous steps for freedom today.” These Youth Docents take up that challenge by becoming ambassadors to teach not only our visitors, but their entire communities what they learn and encourage others to take action as well. They have made connections between the history we teach here and making an impact on the world they live in today. Click here to learn how to apply for this unique opportunity!
-Nancy Yerian, AmeriCorps Member, Ohio Local History Corps
Each day in February, the Freedom Center will use its social media channels to highlight a different quilt from the exhibit, which features 85 story quilts narrating 400 years of African American history.
Your family can join in the celebration at the Freedom Center and online via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @freedomcenter #28days28quilts
And Still We Rise, on view now through March 29, narrates 400 years of history in 85 story quilts. The exhibition curated by the founder of the Women of Color Quilter’s Network, Carolyn Mazloomi, Ph.D., chronicles the history of the African American experience, capturing the stories of freedom’s heroes, ranging from Frederick Douglass to the first African American President. The exhibit is sponsored by P&G and ArtsWave.
-Assia Johnson, Public Relations and Social Media Coordinator
On October 22, I along with my Freedom Center family, previewed the new major motion picture, 12 Years a Slave based on Solomon Northup’s novel also entitled 12 Years a Slave. The film, directed by Steve McQueen and now playing nation-wide, is an absolute must- see. From beginning to end, 12 Years a Slave took me on such an emotional journey. I cried as I saw the hardships and turmoil Solomon faced as Chiwetel Ejiofor expertly brought Solomon Northup to life.
Once I left the theater, I returned to the book. A swirl of questions engulfed me as I followed along with Louis Gossett Jr.’s narration that I simply couldn’t ignore: How accurate was Solomon Northup’s narrative to institutionalized slavery in America and what became of Solomon Northup and his family? Lucky for me, the wonderful historians at the Freedom Center tackled the questions I had in our new Solomon Northup Tour.
The Solomon Northup Tour takes you on a seven stop journey starting from the second floor just outside the Slave Pen to From Slavery to Freedom to the very last stop just outside of Invisible: Slavery Today. Along the way I gained in-depth knowledge about the slave trade, the women’s suffrage movement that intersected with the Abolitionist movement, and the laws Solomon Northup was up against as he and his lawyers fought to seek justice in the courts. I was floored and my questions were answered. This tour is a fantastic supplementary tool that bridges the gaps and provides greater connections to our shared history.
Learn more about the Solomon Northup Tour and follow us on twitter, @FreedomCenter #SolomonNorthupTour
-Assia Johnson, PR and Social Media Coordinator
On Nov. 11, 2013 at 6 p.m. the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center will host a public program honoring the contributions of African Americans in the military. Called to Arms is a Veterans Day program that will explore the legacies of military service from the lens of African Americans. In celebrating Veterans Day, there are a number of African Americans who are deserving of praise and acknowledgement. My father, who served in the U.S. Navy, would often tell me the story of Dorie Miller when I was a child. When my father spoke of Dorie Miller, he had nothing but pride in his voice.
Following training at the Naval Training Station in Norfolk, Va., Dorie Miller was assigned to the ammunition ship USS Pyro (AE-1) where he served as a Mess Attendant, and then was transferred to the USS West Virginia (BB-48), where he became the ship's heavyweight boxing champion. In July of 1940 he had temporary duty aboard the USS Nevada (BB-36) at Secondary Battery Gunnery School. He returned to West Virginia and on 3 August, and was serving in that battleship when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Miller had arisen at 6 a.m., and was collecting laundry when the alarm for general quarters sounded. He headed for his battle station only to discover that torpedo damage had wrecked it, so he went on deck. Because of his physical prowess, he was assigned to carry wounded fellow Sailors to places of greater safety. Then an officer ordered him to the bridge to aid the mortally wounded Captain of the ship. He subsequently manned a 50 caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun until he ran out of ammunition and was ordered to abandon ship. Of the 1,541 men on the West Virginia during the attack, 130 were killed and 52 wounded. Dorie Miller was commended by the Secretary of the Navy and he received the Navy Cross for his extraordinary courage in battle.
The story of Dorie Miller is one of many among the legacy of African Americans serving in the military. Stories like the Dorie Miller symbolizes the cornerstones of freedom, courage, cooperation and perseverance. Join us on Nov. 11, 2013 at 6 p.m. for Called to Arms and celebrate the legacies of African American’s military service.
- Christopher Miller, Manager of Program Initiatives
Twelve years after the British colony of Jamestown was founded in Virginia, the first Dutch ship brought several African men and women to the colony in 1619. These people may have been indentured servants, but they were probably sold as slaves. Over the next two centuries, the colonies expanded along the eastern coast from Georgia to Canada. In the Chesapeake colonies of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, slavery was the predominant way of organizing labor. By 1790, nearly forty percent of the population in the British colonies were enslaved.
Tobacco was a major cash crop in the Chesapeake colonies. During the 1700s, many plantation owners were able to increase their fortunes by selling tobacco to Europeans and Africans. The vast majority of tobacco during the late 16th century was cultivated by slave labor. Slaves planted, harvested, cured and packaged tobacco in an extremely labor intensive process. You can learn more about the colonial cultivation methods of tobacco here. Between 1619 and 1775, generations of enslaved people labored in the American colonies to create wealth for their owners.
— Cori Sisler, Manager of Exhibitions and Collections
This website was funded by the U.S. Department of Education Underground Railroad Educational and Cultural (URR) Program