The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History opens in 2015, but Tavis Smiley’s I Am America travelling exhibit is available now. Smiley is known for his duties as a radio and television host, but the exhibit is his pride and joy.
America I AM: The African American Imprint opens in Charlotte Saturday at the Harvey B. Gantt Center. It will remain here until January 1, 2013. It contains 300 artifacts and is large enough to fill the 25,000 square feet Atlanta Civic. The Charlotte stop will be about half that size, but will contain popular pieces such as The Doors of No Return and Prince’s “Purple Rain” guitar.
“It is the biggest baddest boldest exhibit ever to tell the story of the contributions that we’ve made in the country,” said Smiley, with the bluster of a proud parent. “There’s been no exhibit this compelling or this comprehensive.”
The exhibit covers African American contributions in inventions, science to theater arts, music, culture, business, politics and social movements. Artifacts, most of which were loaned to Smiley for the exhibit, include items luminaries such as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Frederick Douglas, Rosa Parks, Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles.
Smiley’s favorite artifact is “The Door of No Return.” To walk through the same doors that our ancestors walked through, which were the last thing they say on Africa was powerful, Smiley said.
“These doors of no return represent so much to me,” he said. Read the exhibit highlights below the photo gallery.
Other Exhibit Highlights include:
• “The Doors of No Return” from the Cape Coast Castle in Ghana, which enslaved Africans passed through to board ships to the “New World”
• The typewriter Alex Haley used to write the groundbreaking book, Roots
• Malcolm X’s journal and personal Quran
• The door key and stool from the Birmingham jail cell that held Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he authored “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”
• Frederick Douglass’ Frock Coat and Shirt
• The robe that Muhammad Ali wore during training for the “Rumble in the Jungle,” where he defeated world heavyweight champion George Foreman
The exhibit is divided into galleries: “Our History,” “Rooted in Africa,” “Our Foundation,” “The Measure of Justice,” “The Soul of Freedom,” “The Voice of Equality,” “Invincible,” “Spirit,” “Patriotic,” “The Conscience of a Nation”, “The World” and “What’s Your Imprint?”