By Alexzenia Davis
For most people, myself included, the thought of Black History is enormous, emotional, and traumatic. Our history is brutal, scary, infuriating, and should never ever be forgotten. As adults, we are supposed to be responsible for educating the next generation with knowledge of our past, but many of us are reluctant to talk about our history because the subject is uncomfortable. Recently, I’ve been thinking about our history; what I wished I was taught and how we can share our rich and sometimes painful history with the next generation. Prior to receiving this assignment, I wasn’t aware of LATIBAH Collard Green Museum, but after spending an afternoon with T-Afro Feimster and Naomi Winfrey, I feel confident directing people who are seeking the truth about their ancient and modern African, African-American, and Afro-Latino history to The LATIBAH Collard Green Museum.
Charlotte’s Hidden Gem
I had no idea what to expect from the LATIBAH Collard Green Museum. (LATIBAH stands for Life and Times in Black American History.) If you have not ventured into this fascinating place, then you are likely unaware of the treasures that it possesses. It contains the rich history of African Americans; told in its entirety. From the exterior, the museum appears to be another building in an industrial district. Once you enter the front room, you will find an inviting space with two large chairs and a couch. It was in this room that I was greeted by T’Afo Feimster (Founder/Artist/African American history aficionado) and Naomi Winfrey (Program Director/Historian). I sat down with the pair and received an in-depth look into the museum’s history and mission.
T’Afro’s Journey from Artist to Executive Director
The journey began as a collection of Feimster’s art in a local Charlotte art studio. Ranging from paintings to sculptures, each piece captured moments of the African-American experience in a riveting fashion. Impressed visitors urged Feimster to establish a museum and, in 2009, he made the transition from artist to non-profit executive director; a move which he describes as trying, but rewarding. LATIBAH successfully launched in Charlotte’s NoDa district. But in the aftermath of two floods, the museum was forced to relocate to the Historic West End where it reopened in 2014.
Luckily, the museum has experienced an influx of visitors since the move, according to Winfrey. Though LATIBAH’s exhibits do not have a specific demographic—its most frequent visitors tend to include seniors and youth groups. There has been a significant gap with regards to young adults and the middle-aged crowd. Feimster offered an explanation for this: “When we do our marketing and PR, we’re going after school-aged kids and there’s a reason why. It’s a part of our mission to educate the public and to focus on the youth,” said Feimster. “I believe that 15% of your self-esteem is based on understanding who you are, knowing your history and culture, and taking pride in that.” Winfrey echoed this sentiment during our tour. She recalled a conversation that occurred with a group of visiting students. She asked them to say the first word that came to mind when hearing the word, “Africa.” “I went down the line and every single student said, ‘Slave,’” said Winfrey.
Black History Begins In Africa
The LATIBAH exhibit begins in Africa, so that people gain knowledge about what occurred in Africa prior to The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. During each tour, Winfrey leads visitors down a long hall with walls that are lined with images of African leaders as she recounts the continent’s rich and long history—sharing stories of various tribes and their explorations. Also showcased are examples of artifacts and artwork; many of which are replicas created by Feimster. The “trip” through African history is detailed and by no means rushed. The eye opening African history experience ends once you reach the closed door. The closed door is the end of African history and the beginning of The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. It is an odd feeling once you reach this part of the exhibit. The content in Winfrey’s narration is harrowing, but the exhibits themselves are incredible. Feimster’s multi-dimensional art is breathtaking—each piece meticulously engraved with the haunting experience of the slave trade.
The winding exhibit continues on, traveling through each era of the African-American experience, including Share Cropping, the Harlem Renaissance and Segregation. There is even a section dedicated to the history of Black Wall Street (Tulsa, OK). Winfrey concludes the tour with the museum’s only outdoor exhibit, The Underground Railroad – an overwhelming visual depiction of the journey to freedom. It is the perfect end to an inspiring tour.
The museum offers a number of programs, each falling under a specific heading: Cultural Evolution, Historical Spotlight, Creating Community and Arts N’ Education. There are also monthly community events, such as LATIBAH Talk, a lecture-discussion series, and LATIBAH Alive, an interactive event which includes reenactments of moments in Black History.
“You have to deliberately focus on the issues and create programs that will address them. I don’t think we can just get away with saying History-Museum-Slavery,” says Feimster. “The key is education.”
LATIBAH Collard Green Museum is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that is funded by visitor fees, donations, and sponsorships. To find out more about how you can support LATIBAH, please visit their website, or call the museum at 704-333-2426.