WMU News

Shedding light on slavery in America

Oct. 28, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- A traveling exhibit of 18th- and 19th-century slavery-related artifacts will be the focal point of a series of Western Michigan University events designed to shed light on the history of slavery in America and to promote a community dialog on racism today.

The Middle Passage and African American History Museum exhibit, which is based in Gulfport, Miss., will be on campus Monday, Nov. 3, through Friday, Nov. 14, on the third floor of Waldo Library's atrium area. The display may be viewed from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Parking is available in the ramp and lots near Miller Auditorium.

Just weeks after the exhibit's brief September stop in Kalamazoo, WMU's Graduate Student Advisory Committee is sponsoring an encore appearance with support from the University's Lewis Walker Institute for Race and Ethnic Relations. Admission is free, and donations in any amount are welcome.

The exhibit features some 250 slavery objects and documents dating back to the late 1700s and will include a host of items that were not on display in September. The artifacts represent the ongoing work of Middle Passage and African American History Museum proprietors James and Mary Ann Petty. This husband-wife team has amassed more than 15,000 pieces of slavery-era items ranging from branding irons and iron shackles to cigar-box guitars and slave-made pottery.

Their work constitutes one of the largest private collections of such material in the country and has attracted national attention through media outlets such as the "Oprah Winfrey Show," the New York Times, People Magazine, CNN, Le Monde, Black Entertainment Television and National Public Radio's "All Things Considered."

The Pettys, who will be in Kalamazoo to help explain the exhibit, are working to establish an estimated $45-million brick and mortar museum project. Once completed, it will be the first major slavery museum highlighting African American history from the shores of Africa to America.

Nancy Greer-Williams, a doctoral associate in WMU's Graduate College, was instrumental in bringing the middle passage exhibit back to Michigan. While viewing the display with her Race, Ethnicity and Gender class during its previous stop in Kalamazoo, Greer-Williams says a class member used the example of a vicious crime against his wife as being a reason for racism and his hatred of blacks.

"I couldn't look at his wife but everyone else did, and it really bothered me that this man was so consumed by his hatred of one man's act that he exposed his wife and her most horrible incident and did not realize it," she says.

"I decided at that time that we needed to have this exhibit back and also to open the door to have discussions on slavery as it exists now. So besides seeing the exhibit and speaking with Mary Anne and Jim Petty, we invite the public and WMU community to express their views about race, ethnicity, gender, and how to heal racism at two seminars we'll be having."

As a way of initiating an audiencewide dialogue, diverse panelists in the on-campus seminars will discuss the barriers they encounter on a daily basis. The first program, "A Centennial Look at Slavery and its Residual Effects," will take place at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 13, in Room 208 of the Bernhard Center. The second program, "Diverse Perspectives: A Centennial Look at Religion, Gender, Class and Abilities," will take place at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 20, in the Bernhard Center's Brown and Gold Room.

Several other events also are being sponsored by the Walker Institute, along with WMU's African Studies Program, to look deeper into the history of slavery and foster candid yet constructive community dialog about racism in America today.

Monday, Nov. 3

Noon--African Ceremonial Processional, kicking off the Legacies of Slavery Series, featuring African dancing and drummers, from the Siebert Administration Building to the Bernhard Center.

12:30 p.m.--Virtual Reality Tour of African American Slave Artifact Exhibit, Room 210 Bernhard Center.

7 p.m.--Public lecture by Jim and Mary Anne Petty, Lee Honors College.

Tuesday, Nov. 4

7 p.m.--Performance reading of "To Be Sold," which combines music and dance with authentic slave narratives and the historical record to explore the legacy of bondage through poignant artistic expressions of survival and triumph, Room 210 Bernhard Center.

Wednesday, Nov. 5

7 p.m.--Presentation and discussion of the film "SANKOFA," a story about a self-possessed African American woman sent on a spiritual journey in time to experience the pain of slavery and to discover her African identity, Room 3502 Knauss Hall.

Friday, Nov. 7

11 a.m.--Think tank discussion of "How Does It Feel to Be African and American? Questions of Consciousness," Bernhard Center's Bronco Mall food court.

Sunday, Nov. 9

11 a.m.--Sunday worship with pastor Lindsey Bell, First United Baptist Church, 821 S. Burdick St., Kalamazoo.

Monday, Nov. 10

7 p.m.--Public lecture by Dr. Ben C. Wilson, WMU professor of Africana Studies, Lee Honors College Lounge.

Tuesday, Nov. 11

7 p.m.--Theatrical performance, "Seven Roads to Freedom," by Dr. Von Washington, WMU professor of theatre, with Fran Washington and WMU students, a dramatic interpretation involving the escape from bondage to freedom by runaway slaves who take the Underground Railroad through the Midwest, York Arena Theatre.

7:15 p.m.--Musical performance, "My Soul's Been Anchored," by Frederick Bland, WMU doctoral candidate, a combination of spiritual and Gospel music expressing the desire for freedom in the promised land, York Arena Theatre.

7:30 p.m.--Oratorical performance, "Bury Me in a Land," by Dr. Lawrence Potter, WMU assistant professor of Africana studies, an interpretation of the slave's protest and desire for freedom through poetry and oratory, York Arena Theatre.

Wednesday, Nov. 12

7 p.m.--Film/discussion, "Beloved," the Oprah Winfrey production of Toni Morrison's book, the film examines slavery and its legacy as well as the difficulties and pain slavery caused, Room 3502 Knauss Hall.

Thursday, Nov. 13

6 p.m.--Panel discussion, "A Centennial Look at Slavery and its Residual Effects," 208 Bernhard

Friday, Nov. 14

11 a.m.--Think tank discussion, "Are the Psychological Chains of Slavery Broken?," Bronco Mall food court, Bernhard Center.

For more information about the middle passage exhibit, or to schedule a meeting with the Pettys or a group tour of the exhibit, contact Greer-Williams at (269) 387-6181 or <nancy.greer-williams@wmich.edu>. For information about the Walker Institute and its scheduled events, contact Dr. Deborah Barnes, institute director, at (269) 387-2141 or <deborah.barnes@wmich.edu>.

Media contact: Jeanne Baron, 269 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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