Objects hold history. Each one is a story, stamped in time.
When it opens in September, the National Museum of African American History and Culture will display thousands of objects — and their stories — that have shaped African American history.
As we bring you the latest updates on the museum, we're also collecting photos of your objects, the ones that make up your experience of black history in the United States. People are sharing photos of wedding rings, family albums, knick-knacks and Bibles, and they're sharing the stories behind these items. You can explore more of these on Historically Black, the "people's museum" we've begun building on Tumblr.
The Washington Post's Angela Barnes shared the story of her great-grandparents' wedding rings, family heirlooms from 1895.
Angela shared her story:
My great-parents Bertha and Thomas Van Der Zee were married in Kingston, N.Y., in 1895. Thomas, who was a junk dealer, was born in 1870 and was an uncle to the famous black photographer of the "Harlem Renaissance," James Van Der Zee. My great-grandmother Bertha Almira Means, who was part Narangansett Indian, was born in 1874 and was from Providence, R.I. They lived just over the railroad tracks in an integrated community where everyone interacted with one another. They had seven children: Thomas Jr., William Forrest, Helen, Louise (my grandmother), Cecilia, Isabel and Alfred. All of their children, at some point, lived in that little house on South Pine Street, as all of them, with the exception of my Aunt Ceil, came back to live out the remainder of their lives there.
The house held so much memorabilia and items from every family member who had lived there. When my last remaining uncle passed away, in 2006, my mother, sisters and I went to Kingston to the little house, to clean it out and prepare to sell it. As we went through the many items, it occurred to me just how remarkable they all were.
… I came across the wedding rings from the great-grandparents I never knew. They were nestled in a little jewelry box, with the name of the jeweler and Kingston, N.Y., stamped on the inside. My great-grandmother passed away in 1945 and her husband, in 1953. They had been married for 50 years and lived to see their grandchildren have children. Those tarnished rings meant a lot to me – I took them as one of my personal keepsakes from that house with so many memories. To me, they represent the perseverance of a family and what lasting love can mean. Although I had never known my great-grandparents, those rings allow me to reflect on them, and what it meant to be black in the North during that time. Someone put those two rings together in that jewelry box, so that the commitment they made back in 1895 would allow them to continue to be together.
Anne Midgette, The Post's classical music critic, shared a sketch of performer Paul Robeson that her father drew after an inspiring performance.
As Anne recalled the experience:
When I was 8 or 9 years old, my father took me to a showing of the original "Showboat" with Paul Robeson at a revival movie house (remember those?) in New York. Seeing the film again made such an impression on him that he went on a full-blown Paul Robeson kick that lasted throughout my childhood. One of my Christmas gifts that year was a Robeson biography, and we played Robeson's recordings until we all knew them by heart. (I can still sing "Ballad for Americans," and get chills when I think of the live recording of "The House I Live In," when he sings the line, "The right to speak my mind out — that's America to me," and the audience, knowing how hard he fought for that right, broke into applause.) My father was a painter, and he began experimenting with different ideas for a Robeson painting, but only finished a few sketches for larger canvases before his early death. This drawing he made has remained a talisman for me, evoking a whole constellation of thoughts about music and art and the idea of being American, which has remained intimately bound up for me with the story of Robeson and his struggles.
We want this Tumblr to showcase the objects that reflect how black history shaped you and your family's lives. Send a photo of an object and tell us the story behind it. Think of the stories connected to a family photo, the backpack of a child who went to a segregated school or the title to someone's first home. Submit your Historically Black story here: