WHAT happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?

-- Langston Hughes

At Howard University, the exhibit, "Black Americans and the Bicentennial of the Constitution: A Mass Media Perspective," does not celebrate the 200-year-old document. Instead, it outlines the ugly shape of racial stereotyping.

This is a controversial show of memorabilia with sentiments that are best forgotten -- postcards ridiculing blacks with greetings from down in "Sunny Dixie," advertisements for Aunt Jemima pancake flour ("The cook whose cabin became more famous than Uncle Tom's"), a patronizing article in "Ebony" by Eleanor Roosevelt called "Some of My Best Friends Are Negroes."

The exhibit goes back to Revolutionary times, examining the myths of inferiority used to justify racism in American society. While Langston Hughes was writing poetry and historian and educator W.E.B. DuBois was serving as an intellectual leader, blacks were being depicted as savages in Tarzan, and as the brunt of the jokes in mechanical banks and cookie jars.

A Howard University professor, Charles Simmons, has been collecting such artifacts for the past 20 years and using them in teaching his classes. The exhibit that has grown out of his collection is long on explanatory text, and some items are just photocopies. But the message is clear.


Through September 6 at Howard University's Blackburn Center, 2400 Sixth St. NW.