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Monday March 8th

'This is an open book': Rolling African American history museum stops in Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill residents Larry and Karen Reid attend the Sankofa African-American History Museum on Wheels event at the Rogers Road Community Center in Chapel Hill on Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020.
Buy Photos Chapel Hill residents Larry and Karen Reid attend the Sankofa African-American History Museum on Wheels event at the Rogers Road Community Center in Chapel Hill on Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020.

After traveling all over the country, the Sankofa African American Museum on Wheels made a stop at the Rogers Road Community Center in Chapel Hill for two days over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.

The museum has been educating the public on African American history since Angela Jennings established Sankofa in 1995. "Sankofa" is a Ghanaian word meaning to “use the wisdom of the past to build the future." 

Visitors to the museum found themselves surrounded by tables filled with pictures and inventions from people like African American journalist Ida B. Wells. The museum also featured artifacts from the time of slavery and the Civil Rights era — celebrating prominent figures like Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr. and President Barack Obama. 

“As Sankofa curator, Jennings has traveled throughout the United States, the U.S. Virgin Islands, West Africa and Europe to amass a collection of art collectibles, and memorabilia that rivals many traditional museums," according to the flyer for the museum.

Roger-Eubanks Neighborhood Association President Robert Campbell has lived in Chapel Hill for over 70 years and was a part of the decision to bring the museum to the Rogers Road Community Center. 

“I am here today to help promote this because some of the history we are seeing today, it was not taught in our school,” Campbell said. “Even though they said, 'separate, but equal,' it wasn’t equal when it came to material, especially books and things like that. Our books, I would say 95 percent of them, were hand-me-down.”

Lillie Atwater has also lived in Chapel Hill for over 70 years and has lived through segregation and the Jim Crow era. She wasn't able to vote until she was 25. 

“I go to church at about 7:30 a.m., and I heard about (the museum), but I wanted to see it,” Atwater said. “I love looking back because I’ve lived through a lot of this and I wanted to see what is on display.”

The goal of the museum is to educate visitors about the history, heritage, pain and pride of African Americans. 

Jean Hamilton, a resident of Chapel Hill, spoke to the importance of this as a means of understanding what African Americans went through.

“I think it is important because to understand why discrimination and racial injustice persists, we need to understand the depths of the exploitation that took place three to 400 years ago until now and understand as well how resilient we are to have survived with this much exploitation and brutality,” Hamilton said.

Campbell said he wanted this museum to be just one aspect of sharing history with the younger generation.

“I want our younger people and some of our not-so-young people to know the history and struggle that is still going on and what we can do to raise our hand and say, ‘yes, I am going to pass on our knowledge,’” Campbell said. “It’s just like what good is a book on a shelf if no one has a chance to open it or read it. This is an open book.”

@kecarpenter1

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com


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