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.
On August 21, 1955, 14-year old Emmett Till traveled from his hometown of Chicago to visit his cousins in Money, Mississippi. On August 31, his mutilated corpse was pulled from the Tallahatchie River.
What happened in between was one of the most infamous instances of racial injustice in our nation’s history. Emmett Till was young, black and outgoing. He had been raised in Chicago, where race relations were not as tense as in the South and where black people did not live in constant fear of their white neighbors. When he went to visit his cousins in Money, he was thrown headfirst into a world of extreme social inequality, a world whose dangers he did not fully understand.
Emmett was resistant to the long list of rules and taboos that governed interactions between blacks and whites. He wowed the local children with stories of his white girlfriends back home, and he was brave enough to wolf whistle at the white woman working at the local general store. Stories of Emmett’s behavior toward Carolyn Bryant, the young woman at the general store, spread throughout Money. Her husband soon heard about the incident, and he decided he needed to teach Emmett a lesson.
Early in the morning on August 28, Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam went to the home of Emmett’s uncle Mose Wright and demanded that Emmett come with them.
Three days later, Till’s body was found in the Tallahatchie River. His skull was deformed by a brutal beating, and one of his eyes had been gouged out. He had been shot and thrown into the river with a heavy fan blade attached to his neck with barbed wire.
Bryant and Milam were brought to court for Till’s kidnapping and murder, but after only an hour of deliberation, the all-white jury returned its verdict: not guilty. A year later, Bryant and Milam admitted to murdering Till in an interview with Look magazine.
In the days and weeks following Emmett Till’s murder, the act of violence was condemned by local media and white public figures. However, as the case received increasing national attention, Northern media outlets began attacking the climate of racial injustice in Mississippi, and locals began to indignantly defend Bryant and Milam. Black media outlets played a large role in expanding the notoriety of Till’s murder. When Jet magazine published a photo of Emmett’s disfigured remains, outrage spread throughout black communities nationwide.
The media coverage became a war between those calling for justice and those defending the status quo. No matter what side a person took, the battle could not be ignored because it had made its way into the family living room. Television made inequality visible in a way it never had been before. In a way, the tragedy served as a unifying force, concretizing and focusing the righteous anger of black people and other proponents of equality. This anger had been living beneath the surface and building in intensity for generations.
Till’s murder is considered to have set the Civil Rights Movement in motion. When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery city bus, she was thinking of Emmett Till, she has said. After decades of segregation, humiliation and fear, black people in the South had decided that enough was enough.
This summer marks the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer-- when a diverse group of students and young activists mobilized en masse to travel to the regions where racism ruled and fight for voting rights and desegregation. Freedom Summer showed us the important role young people play in inciting action and creating change. It demonstrated the power of a community united, even if that community is brought together not by geography but by a shared passion and common goal.
Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights Movements had many successes: the end of de jure segregation, the reduction of discriminatory voting practices and the turning of national sentiment in favor of racial equality. However, the challenges faced by the participants in these movements are not unknown to those still fighting for racial equality today. Discrimination continues to fester in the workforce, the real estate market, the classroom, the voting booth and the newsroom. We still turn a blind eye to injustice. We still have a soft spot for the status quo. It was only one year ago when our Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This action has the potential to jeopardize disadvantaged Americans’ right to vote. 1964 was also the year that President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a war of poverty in America, enacting legislation meant to tackle the national poverty rate. However, wealth disparity in our country is on the rise, and Americans living in poverty are disproportionately people of color. A discriminatory penile system and the “school to prison pipeline” have led to the mass incarceration of black men and permanent barriers to voting and employment.
Three months ago, the kidnapping of more than 300 young women in Nigeria by an extremist group led to international outrage and the explosion of the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. The kidnapping was an attack on the education of women. Now, as the outcry on social media dies down, the girls remain in captivity, and their families continue to fight for their safe return.
There are more people enslaved today than at any other time in human history, but their suffering goes largely unheard.
Just like the murder of Emmett Till, these realities deserve our righteous anger.
While the fight against modern slavery is gaining momentum worldwide, it has not yet matched the Civil Rights Movement in terms of national attention, support and action. It may seem like that modern abolitionism has not yet had its Emmett Till, but in reality there have been millions of Emmett Tills, millions of young men and women who have had their lives taken and their freedom stolen. As long as slaves remain nameless faces and slavery a nebulous concept far from our everyday lives, we will continue being content with the status quo.
Tatum Hunter, Public Relations Intern
Image Credit: The Lace Doesn't Lessen the Horror of Pulling E mmett from the Water, Charlotte O'Neal. And Still We Rise: Race, Culture and Visual Conversations. See it before it closes Sept. 2.
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.
You have raised my awareness…now what? One of biggest frustrations in the anti-trafficking movement is the idea that we, particularly youth and young adults, can’t do anything to significantly influence the fight against modern-day slavery. Our choice is either to do nothing – sinking into despair thinking we’re powerless – or to do what we can with what we have where we are. Every experience and decision leads to a different pathway, and these small life choices and acts build towards a bigger goal and vision. You may not be the CEO of an NGO or a globe-trotting emancipator, but you matter. Your efforts will make a difference.
The first and most important action you can take is to become well-versed in the subject; dig a bit deeper after your introduction to the issue of human trafficking. There’s misinformation out there, and it is crucial that you separate the myths from the realities. In doing so, you avoid tunnel vision and truly get a better idea of how multi-faceted trafficking is. Additionally, through the education process, you’ll become familiar with major stakeholders and reliable sources of information; as a result, you’ll strengthen your ability to direct others to accurate information. Your authority to engage others in the subject and the anti-trafficking movement’s credibility hinges on this knowledge base.
Learning is not limited to books and online research. Attend events such as the Trafficking in Persons Heroes Reception hosted at the Freedom Center every year. Find a World Affairs Council near you (there’s one in Cincinnati!) and join in on one of their conference calls. A recent call featured Luis CdeBaca, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.
Change starts with the individual, and other than learning more, another personal endeavor is to re-examine how our consumer choices feed the cycle of enslavement. Slave-made products are all around us, and yes, at this time it might be impossible to only purchase fair trade products. However, we can still make small advances towards promoting and supporting ethically-made goods. It starts with the following question: what do I really need to have, and what is a luxury item? For me, the answer is chocolate. I love it, but honestly, it’s a treat that I can live without. It’s the one item that I’ve pledged to buy only if it is free of slave labor. So, instead of grabbing candy every time I go to the grocery store, I save up and buy chocolate at a local fair trade shop.
Practicing this type of consumer activity is an exercise of mindfulness and gratitude. It makes us reflect on what we have, what we truly need and the implications of our purchases.
Fair trade stores aren’t the only organizations looking to end modern-day slavery, and buying items isn’t the only way to financially support anti-trafficking work. There are a lot of NGOs and nonprofits that run much-needed programs, from investigation to reintegration. However, these organizations require funding. Many of them have individual fundraising pages. Ideas include marathons (5K runs for charity), garage sales, silent auctions and restaurant nights. Here’s a list of restaurants that donate a portion of proceeds during fundraising nights.
Fundraising is one way to get directly connected with organizations fighting trafficking. Volunteering and interning locally are also ways to get involved. Direct volunteers (i.e., those who personally interact with clients) are usually 18 or older, but there are other roles to fill as well. The End Slavery Now Directory of Organizations can help you find groups in your area; in Cincinnati, there are several that address different aspects of human trafficking. Visit End Slavery Cincinnati, Ten Thousand Villages, Jean R. Cadet Restavek Organization, Restavek Freedom Foundation, Stop Traffick Fashion and Cincinnati Union Bethel to learn about their initiatives. Also, check out organizations that are not exclusively for trafficked persons. Detox houses, domestic abuse centers and shelters for minors often have volunteer opportunities. These are places that often serve trafficking survivors.
If you have a heart for serving but want to take that to the international level, check out Crossroads’ mission trip to India or Half the Sky Movement’s openings. End Slavery Now’s Antislavery Partners usually have a variety of volunteer and internship opportunities abroad.
You don’t have to leave the comfort of your home to help organizations. The U.S. State Department hires virtual student foreign service e-interns, and the United Nations has online volunteering opportunities.
While volunteering or interning with organizations, you’ll find that there’s still an immense need for more people to get involved. You can be a recruiter and encourage others to take part in these anti-slavery efforts. Counselors, administrators and parents are always telling us to get involved in school. Starting a campaign against trafficking is a way to engage your school community in the conversation, and it will also help you develop communication and management skills. Campaign ideas include a simulation, play or film screening.
Who knows? Your school might already have an anti-slavery organization that could co-sponsor an event. If so, check out The Free Project and be part of the network of students striving to end slavery.
Campaign organizers often find it beneficial to host speakers or facilitate panel discussions. A passionate and knowledgeable speaker can move people and incite thought and conversation. There are a multitude of survivors, advocates and experts willing to share their work and their stories. Head to End Slavery Now’s list of Antislavery Partners and see which organizations have speakers on deck. International Justice Mission, for example, has a variety of experts that can talk about a wide range of topics – from justice operations to strategic initiatives.
You are also qualified to talk about human trafficking. We cannot negate the value of including kids in the conversation, and you can be the one to start that partnership. Most curricula in elementary, middle and high schools include a section on chattel slavery. These required class lectures are chances to introduce students to 21st century slavery in an age-appropriate manner. Give an overview of the situation, and ask questions that make them think. We build strong communities – and for that matter, strong anti-human trafficking communities – when we approach everyone in society. Each person, no matter how young or old, has something to contribute. Establish those ties by leading stimulating discussions, motivating others to become global citizens and cultivating the next generation of thinkers and problem-solvers.
Sometimes, we’d prefer to talk less and express more. Organizing or participating in a talent show is another way to raise awareness and give a voice to the anti-human trafficking cause. A talent showcase can include artwork, slam poetry, music and dance. There are several anti-human trafficking inspired pieces. Take a look at artwork from Artworks for Freedom, listen to this poem from the Polaris Project and check out these music videos from MTV EXIT. The point is not to sensationalize or trivialize human trafficking but to express the truths about it through various methods.
There’s no limit to the ways in which you can creatively involve others in the anti-slavery dialogue. If you enjoy coding, programming or designing, consider creating an app or virtual tour related to human trafficking. You can develop something as complex as Slavery Footprint or create a virtual tour on YouTube (e.g.., have a progressive set of videos where viewers can learn about anti-trafficking laws and their outcomes).
You can always explore fresh and innovative ways to contribute to human trafficking content, but remember that academic research is also necessary. Modern-day slavery only started to gain attention a few years ago, and there’s a dearth of rigorous and useful research material. Potential thesis topics could address human trafficking and its relationship to local law enforcement, state legislation, culture, global climate change, nationalism, foreign policy relations, economic sanctions, human development, etc.
If you like to write, research isn’t the only way to utilize this skill. You can write an op-ed or send a letter to your state representatives. Write encouraging letters to organizations helping trafficked persons or make cards for their clients. Be that positive light. No matter what role or sector someone is in, anti-human trafficking work is exhausting; there will be moments of discouragement and failure. Your contribution might be to lift people up with words of reassurance, reminders of success stories and cheers of inspirations.
Everyone has a different calling in life, and there are different levels of involvement. Given the options you can take, go confidently in the direction you choose and realize that you are an abolitionist. Take a look at the work of some young abolitionists:
· Middle and high school students around the world have been fundraising for The A21 Campaign.
· Read about Ellie Zika. She founded KidKnits at age nine out of a desire to promote fair labor and education in Rwanda.
· Watch a preview of The Arts Effect NYC’s play on sex trafficking and the commercial sex trade.
Now, it’s your turn. Be a source of hope wherever you are and know that there are others fighting human trafficking along with you.
Post written by Cazzie Reyes, Contemporary Slavery Intern during Summer 2014. Cazzie is from Bradley University in Peroria, Illinois.
Image: Fair-trade chocolate, Nico Nelson.
Welcome to Cincinnati and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center! It's an honor to welcome you to the city. There are plenty of amazing Cincinnati attractions for you to see and experience during your visit — including Macy's Music Festival and the Freedom Center.
This year we’re celebrating 10 years of championing freedom and history with our special exhibition, And Still We Rise: Race, Culture and Visual Conversations. The beautifully hand-crafted exhibition invites you to experience 400 years of black history in 85 beautiful story quilts—from the arrival of the first slave ships to the first black president, Barrack Obama. In addition to And Still We Rise, we have two new exhibitions: Cincinnati’s Soldiers: Men and Women of the First World War , the new online exhibition highlighting the contributions of African Americans and women in the first world war and All for the Cause, an exhibition featuring multimedia portraits of civil rights leaders and everyday freedom heroes who gave their lives in the struggle for civil rights.
While you’re visiting, take a selfie with your favorite quilt from And Still We Rise or take a picture with the eternal flame, or another part of your visit that you enjoyed and tag it #CelebratingFreedom—our favorites will be reposted all weekend long via Instagram (IG) and Twitter. You can learn more about our year-long 10th anniversary celebrations by visiting us online, Facebook, IG and Twitter, @FreedomCenter. We know you’re going to have a great time in Cincinnati this week, so join us in celebrating 10 years of history, courage, cooperation and perseverance!
Assia Johnson, Public Relations and Social Media Coordinator
Image: Assia's Museum Selfie inside And Still We Rise. Featured Quilt: Sit in, by Ed Johnetta Miller.
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center was saddened to hear of the passing of an icon of the Cincinnati community, Lois Rosenthal.
While she is perhaps best remembered as a patron of the arts community, Lois was a tremendous supporter of the Freedom Center as well, supporting our mission from the very beginning. She was a highly motivating, informed and proactive member of our board, and her advocacy for ensuring that the history we tell impacts our actions today was never-ending. Along with her husband, Richard, she made two significant contributions to the Freedom Center, giving to our capital campaign, "Lighting Freedom's Flame," as well as helping to fund our Invisible exhibit, the first permanent exhibit on the issue of modern slavery.
Our condolences go out to Richard and all of Lois's family. She will be dearly missed, but her legacy will positively impact Cincinnati for many years to come.
--Francie S. Hiltz and Marty Dunn, co-chairs of the board of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, and Rev. Damon Lynch, Jr., and John Pepper, honorary co-chairs.
Hello, my name is Brittany Vernon and I am the newest IMLS Coca Cola Museum Studies Apprentice. I recently graduated from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, with a degree in Africana Studies where I focused on the artistic and literary contributions to American history and culture by African Americans. I have always been interested in history, but it wasn’t until I started learning about African American contributions to American history and culture that I knew it was my passion. I am obsessed with historical artifacts and uncovering the mysterious past lives of the objects and people that are discussed in museums. I am excited about my opportunity to share my passion of history with you and what history I'll uncover during my time at the Freedom Center. It is my hope that I inspire new explorers-- there are stories all around us waiting to be revealed!
Brittany Vernon, IMLS Coca Cola Museum Studies Apprentice
“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
Two weeks ago, the world had a great light extinguished when Dr. Maya Angelou passed away. I have been thinking about her legacy a bit since her passing, and have been primarily grateful that she left us with such a written record of her triumphs and her struggles and her fights for freedom and equality.
I was fortunate enough as an undergraduate English student many years ago to attend a gathering in Birmingham, Ala., at which Dr. Angelou read from both her most recent work and previous pieces. Her power and passion made such an impact on an impressionable young reader and writer, and I’ll never forget the feeling I had of sitting so close to that voice -- close enough that it felt like the sound waves were beaming directly into my heart. Maya Angelou was an inspiration to me for many reasons, but chief among them were her unrelenting march toward justice and her refusal to be bowed by hardship.
When thinking about how to connect the inspiration I received from Dr. Angelou to my work here at NURFC in collections, I obviously thought about the struggle for freedom and justice, but also the place that guiding light serves in the story of the Underground Railroad and in Maya Angelou’s own story. She was inspired by a Paul Laurence Dunbar poem for her greatest known work, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and passed that inspiration on to generation upon generation that followed her. Walking through our galleries each morning, I am lucky enough to be able to take in the great artistry of the And Still We Rise (a paraphrase of a line from Maya Angelou!) quilting exhibit, which features a piece dedicated to the Dunbar work as well as Dr. Angelou’s, and I see the chain of influence in which she is a mighty link.
The world would be much darker without Maya Angelou’s light, and we are called to continue to rise – to overcome hardship and to help raise those also struggling toward freedom and justice.
The Paul Laurence Dunbar and Maya Angelou quilts, along with over 80 others, can be seen in the And Still We Rise exhibit in the Skirball Gallery through September 1.
-- Gina K. Armstrong, IMLS Coca-Cola Museum Studies Apprentice
Someone recently asked me “how do you create exhibits at the Freedom Center?” Well, every exhibit is slightly different, but I can tell you how we created our new online exhibit, Cincinnati’s Soldiers: Men and Women in the First World War.
It began with a collaboration and a collection. The collection, housed at the Cincinnati History Library and Archives, is a group of portraits of service people donated after display at the Allied War Exhibition at Music Hall in 1918. Since we wanted to tell individual stories and show the impact of factors such as race and gender on opportunities to serve, this record of people who served seemed like the perfect place to start. We combed through the photographs to decide which ones we would include. As often happens, we found more stories than we could tell in one exhibit.
The demographics of the portraits tell one story: they are the result of discrimination in the military and aid organizations at that time. In the entire collection – which held nearly 3,000 portraits – there were only ten African-American men, five white women, and no African American women. In addition to portraying racial and gender diversity, we also wanted to show a range of jobs and duties performed by service people in the Great War, so we chose individuals to research based on those factors.
Once we had identified subjects, we had to learn more about them. We used tools such as Family Search and Ancestry.com to look at birth records, census data, and death records to find out more about these individuals’ lives and family relationships. The Cincinnati City Directories told us where and how these people lived. Selective Service Draft cards included servicemen’s professions in civilian life.
For me, learning about these people was the most exciting part of creating the exhibit. Make sure you check out Francis Herman Gow, the Simms family and the professional women (a doctor and a lawyer in 1918!) in Cincinnati’s Solders. If you would like to explore these types of records, visit the Freedom Center’s Family Search Center, where you can research your family’s genealogy.
Once we knew the stories we were telling, we had to put the exhibit together. We wrote a script describing the collection and each individual. The archivists at the Cincinnati History Library and Archives scanned the photographs for online display. The script was revised and edited many times. The look of the exhibit was designed by our Brand Champion, Jesse Kramer, and the content uploaded to the Freedom Center’s website. I hope you get a chance to look at s Soldiers, and that you enjoy learning about these amazing individuals.
- Nancy Yerian, AmeriCorps Member, Ohio History Service Corps
This website was funded by the U.S. Department of Education Underground Railroad Educational and Cultural (URR) Program