Written by on April 23, 2016

Banneker-Douglass Museum: Rich in African-American History

Banneker-Douglass Exhibit

Banneker-Douglass Exhibit

I can’t stop thinking about the Banneker-Douglass Museum.

I visited on a picture perfect day—think bright sun, cloudless, no humidity. As usual, Annapolis offered plenty to gawk at outside—from the usual people watching to a photo shoot on Main Street. But, my mind keeps returning to the inside of that building.

This small but mighty gem, Maryland’s official repository of African American heritage, is dedicated to preserving the history and culture of African Americans and offers a unique and intimate way for visitors to view important artifacts and historical photos and to learn about African American roots, especially as they relate to the Great State.

The museum, housed in the former Mount Moriah A.M.E. Church at 84 Franklin Street in Annapolis, is named for Benjamin Banneker, a free-born African American man highly regarded for his scientific achievements and loud protests against slavery, and Frederick Douglass, who escaped from slavery and became famous for writing about and speaking against slavery. Both men hailed from Maryland.

After receiving a warm, friendly welcome in the museum’s lobby, I walked along the beautiful black marble floor and up the steps to the permanent exhibit, “Deep Roots, Rising Waters,” which provides an overview of African American history in Maryland from the 1600s through today. As I viewed photos and artifacts of Maryland’s first African American settler, Mathias De Sousa, and listened to an excerpt of the book, The Fugitive Blacksmith by James W. C. Pennington (portrayed by an actor), I kept thinking, “Wow, I didn’t know that, but I should.”

A bit of a sports nut, I loved watching the current documentary about The University of Maryland Eastern Shore’s (UMES) football legacy. The well-done film documents the rise and fall of the team, including the struggles players faced fighting racism and advocating for integration in the mid- to late-1960s. The film features impressive and touching interviews with former players like Art Shell, who was among more than 20 stars on the team who went on to play for the National Football League.

I also spent a considerable amount of time in one of the temporary exhibits, “Untold Stories Athletes of Maryland’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” which will be on display through October. Among featured athletes in this companion exhibit to the “Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Hometown Teams” are Maryland tennis pioneer Ann Koger and Olympian Rochelle Stevens.

I finished my tour in the first floor gallery, which houses a temporary exhibit celebrating the centennial of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). On display are fascinating aspects of the ASALH’s history, including considerable information about Dr. Carter G. Woodson, who founded Negro History Week in 1926 because he believed African-American history was disregarded and distorted. Negro History Week has become Black History Month.

I exited the museum excited about what I’d learned and proud of my fellow Marylanders—past, present, and future.

The BDM may be a bit off the beaten path geographically, but should be on every resident and visitor’s route.

Admission to the museum, which is open from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, is free. Scheduled guided tours and site rentals are available for a fee. For more information, visit bdmuseum.maryland.gov

Of special interest is an exciting exhibit that allows visitors to be part in the launch of the BDM Selfie Studio, from 1-3 p.m. on Saturday September 26 only. Bring your selfie stick, or borrow one, to take pics with Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass cutouts, and other cool props. Visitors are encouraged to post their pictures on social media using #BDMSelfieStudio2015 and the BDM will repost pictures on its social media sites. Whoever posts the most creative photo using the hashtag by the end of the day (5 pm) will win a prize. The studio will be available for a limited time only. Please contact Curator of Education Trenda Byrd at 410-216-6189 or trenda.byrd@maryland.gov with any questions.

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