African-Amer­i­can mu­seum a re­minder of an un­fin­ished cause Chen Wei­hua

China Daily (USA) - - ACROSS AMERICA - Con­tact the writer at chen­wei­hua@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

The Na­tional Mu­seum of African Amer­i­can His­tory and Cul­ture, not far from my of­fice in the Na­tional Press Build­ing, opened on Sept 24 af­ter a con­struc­tion stage of more than four years. Housed in a beau­ti­ful struc­ture, the mu­seum tells the Amer­i­can his­tory through the ex­pe­ri­ence of African Amer­i­cans.

At the open­ing cer­e­mony, US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, the first African-Amer­i­can pres­i­dent, quoted his­to­rian John Hope Franklin as say­ing that “good his­tory is a good foun­da­tion for a bet­ter present and fu­ture”.

“He un­der­stood the best his­tory doesn’t just sit be­hind a glass case. It helps us to un­der­stand what’s out­side the case,” Obama said.

In fact, the mu­seum, while be­ing built, has wit­nessed nu­mer­ous gath­er­ings and protests of African Amer­i­cans such as against the po­lice shoot­ing of un­armed black men.

Through­out most of the past week, the top news across the na­tion has been the shoot­ing to death of black man Keith Scott by po­lice of­fi­cers in Char­lotte, North Carolina, last Tues­day. The in­ci­dent has sparked a new wave of protests in sev­eral US ci­ties against po­lice bru­tal­ity.

The video of the shoot­ing was re­leased while the mu­seum was hold­ing its open­ing cer­e­mony on the Na­tional Mall, at­tended by sev­eral US pres­i­dents.

The Char­lotte shoot­ing fol­lowed the high-pro­file cases of the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida by neigh­bor­hood watch vol­un­teer Ge­orge Zim­mer­man in late 2012 and the deaths of Michael Brown in Fer­gu­son, Mis­souri and Eric Garner in New York City, both in 2014, all caused by po­lice of­fi­cers.

The un­fin­ished cause of African Amer­i­cans has been con­stantly re­minded as I cov­ered anniversaries in the past years of March in Wash­ing­ton when Martin Luther King Jr gave his fa­mous “I Have a Dream” speech.

On Satur­day, sev­eral of us toured the Gettysburg Na­tional Mil­i­tary Park in Penn­syl­va­nia, where on one site, US Pres­i­dent Abra­ham Lin­coln de­liv­ered his well-known Gettysburg Ad­dress.

While the Eman­ci­pa­tion Procla­ma­tion, an ex­ec­u­tive or­der is­sued by Lin­coln on Jan 1, 1863, set free more than 3 mil­lion en­slaved African Amer­i­cans in the South, the Gettysburg Ad­dress on Nov 19 that year marked the begin­ning of the end of the bloody Civil War, which killed more than 600,000 Amer­i­cans.

Both the “I Have a Dream” and Gettysburg Ad­dress are fa­mous among Chi­nese. Both have been used in Chi­nese mid­dle school text­books. Then-pres­i­dent Jiang Zemin even re­cited part of the Gettysburg Ad­dress dur­ing an in­ter­view with CBS “60 Min­utes” an­chor Michael Wal­lace in 2000.

More than a few decades ago, the TV se­ries Roots and movie Un­cle Tom’s Cabin had been dubbed into Chi­nese and broad­cast in China.

The un­fin­ished cause of African Amer­i­cans is not lim­ited to their protests against po­lice bru­tal­ity. African Amer­i­cans fare poorly in ed­u­ca­tion and in­come equal­ity, and there is a dis­pro­por­tion­ately high AfricanAmer­i­can pop­u­la­tion in US prisons.

For some African Amer­i­cans, the mem­ory of slav­ery still hasn’t gone away. When I stayed with an African-Amer­i­can host fam­ily in Detroit in 1998, the cou­ple showed me the photo of their great grand­par­ents, who were slaves. They still re­fused to go to churches, call­ing it a place white men used to con­trol the blacks.

“A mu­seum alone will not al­le­vi­ate poverty in ev­ery in­ner city, or ev­ery ru­ral ham­let. It won’t elim­i­nate gun vi­o­lence from all our neigh­bor­hoods, or im­me­di­ately en­sure that jus­tice is al­ways color-blind. It won’t wipe away ev­ery in­stance of dis­crim­i­na­tion in a job in­ter­view, or a sen­tenc­ing hear­ing, or folks try­ing to rent an apart­ment,” Obama said on Satur­day.

A Pew Cen­ter sur­vey re­leased in June found that while 45 per­cent of whites said race re­la­tions in the US are gen­er­ally bad, the rate is 61 per­cent among blacks and 58 per­cent among Lati­nos.

Only 28 per­cent of whites said Obama has made progress on race re­la­tions while 51 per­cent of blacks and 38 per­cent of Lati­nos said he has done so.

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