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Share Your Voice: Madison (Black History Month)

African American history celebrated as area residents discuss the Society's plans for a new Wisconsin history museum

Share Your Voice: Madison (Black History Month) | Wisconsin Historical Society

 

Guests enjoy a laugh during the Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session Feb. 19 at the Society headquarters in Madison. The event was held in conjunction with the Society's Third Annual Black History Month Open House.


Guests enjoy a laugh during the Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session Feb. 19, 2019 at the Society headquarters in Madison. The event, which was the first of five Madison sessions, was held in conjunction with the Society's Third Annual Black History Month Open House. (Photo by DEAN WITTER — Wisconsin Historical Foundation)

 

Story by Dean Witter
Wisconsin Historical Foundation

MADISON — The auditorium of the Wisconsin Historical Society’s headquarters came alive in a celebration of history the evening of Feb. 19 as the first of five “Share Your Voice” new museum public listening sessions planned for Madison was held in conjunction with the Society’s Third Annual Black History Month Open House.

EnlargeTanika Apaloo, the Society’s Community Engagement and Diversity Liaison, served as host for the Feb. 19 session at the Society headquarters, which was the first of five scheduled to be held in Madison.


Tanika Apaloo, the Society’s Community Engagement and Diversity Liaison, served as host for the Feb. 19, 2019 session at the Society headquarters, which was the first of five scheduled to be held in Madison.
(Photo by AMADOU KROMAH)

As a result, in addition to a discussion about the Society’s plans to build a new state-of-the-art Wisconsin history museum on the Capitol Square, guests were also treated to a smorgasbord of African American culture. The event included spirited performances by Edi Gbordzi (Ghanaian drum solo), Rob Dz (spoken word) and Madison’s Mt. Zion Baptist Church women’s choir, remarks from recently elected Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes — the state’s first African American in his position — and a soul food buffet from beloved local caterer Melly Mel’s.

The actual new museum session was similar to more than 30 others the Society is conducting through June in communities across the state and at each of the
12 American Indian nations of Wisconsin.

Tanika Apaloo, the Society’s Community Engagement and Diversity Liaison, opened the event by introducing Dz, a well-known Madison rapper and spoken word artist, who delivered a rousing performance about African Americans speaking out throughout history, and the importance of continuing to do so.

“Stand up and share your voice,” he said in one verse. “Speak what is on your mind because there was a time when we didn’t have a choice.”

“Every woman and man understand the world is yours because of the travels of the past,” he added.

EnlargeWell-known Madison spoken word artist Rob Dz delivers an eloquent performance: “Stand up and share your voice,” he said in one verse. “Speak what is on your mind, because there was a time when we didn’t have a choice.”


Well-known Madison spoken word artist Rob Dz delivers an eloquent performance: “Stand up and share your voice,” he said in one verse. “Speak what is on your mind, because there was a time when we didn’t have a choice.” (Photo by AMADOU KROMAH)

Dz closed to fiery applause after saying: “So many people like you and I have made a choice; They’ve created a rich history in sharing their voice; And in the same way you tune in to my voice; my challenge to you is to make sure your voice is heard; So share your voice.”

After Gbordzi’s solo drum performance, Apaloo took a moment to “pay homage to the Native People … who have called these lands we stand on today home for over 12,000 years. Thank you.”

She then took a moment to acknowledge the presence of 100-year-old Dr. Fannie Hicklin, who in 1964 was the first African American professor at UW-Whitewater and in 1991 became the first (and only) black president of the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Board of Curators.

In a sign of deference, Apaloo asked Hicklin’s “permission” to go forth with the session. Hicklin rose from her seat and enthusiastically granted it.

Apaloo sent out a call to action to members of historic African American organizations in attendance, asking them to share their voice. “In this room sit the keepers of our history and culture for the last century or more,” she said. “Thank you for bringing your voice.”

Christian Øverland, the Ruth and Hartley Barker Director of the Society, then introduced Barnes, whose name became chiseled in Wisconsin history when he took office Jan. 7.

Enlarge“Despite some flaws and the challenges in race we face, I am still proud to call this place home, because I know what we were before and I know exactly what we can be,” Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes tells the crowd.


“Despite some flaws and the challenges in race we face, I am still proud to call this place home, because I know what we were before and I know exactly what we can be,” Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, the first African American to be elected to his post in Wisconsin history, tells the crowd during the "Share Your Voice" session, which was held in conjunction with the Wisconsin Historical Society's Black History Month Open House on Feb. 19, 2019. (Photo by AMADOU KROMAH) (Photo by AMADOU KROMAH)

“It is about more than making history,” Barnes said. “It is about making a difference.”

On a day that coincided with the Madison mayoral primary election, the 32-year-old Milwaukee native and former state representative spoke of the importance of protecting the right to vote and the sacrifices of daring African Americans of Wisconsin’s past who helped achieve black suffrage. He also reminded guests that 2019 marks the 400th anniversary “of the unlawful, unwilling arrival of African slaves at Jamestown, Virginia.”

Barnes encouraged guests to speak their minds and touted the future of Wisconsin.

“Despite some flaws and the challenges in race we face, I am still proud to call this place home,” he said, “because I know what we were before and I know exactly what we can be.”

On that note, the event turned its focus to the new museum project and took a path similar to the first 10 “Share Your Voice” sessions — which began Oct. 1, 2018, in Superior.

Øverland introduced “What Makes Wisconsin, Wisconsin?” the Society’s six-minute video, which explains the role of the 173-year-old organization, highlights things for which our state is known, and outlines the need for a new state history museum.

Øverland then turned the proceedings over to session facilitator Cybelle Jones, the Principal & Executive Director of Gallagher & Associates, the Washington, D.C.-based exhibit design firm chosen by the Society.

Jones engaged guests in an activity in which they use sticky notes to write down their ideas of what makes Wisconsin great, which are then posted on new museum theme boards.

Jones read aloud one note because she said it reflected other shared thoughts: “(The) multi-ethnic flavor of the state of Wisconsin is a beautiful reality; however, the medium to bring these ethnicities together on a day-to-day basis is nearly nonexistent. …”

When Jones asked for comments, the woman who wrote the observation turned attention to the film that preceded the exercise.

“I didn’t want it to come across as negative,” she said, “but just watching the video, there weren’t a lot of people of color depicted in the film. But I know that’s what we’re talking about here tonight, so I’m not criticizing.”

That led a couple others to mention similar reactions to the video.

“There are people who weren’t represented,” a woman said, noting the absence of recognition of historic black settlements in Wisconsin. “There wasn’t a black family. That’s kind of jarring when we’re here (celebrating Black History Month) and then we see a video that does not reflect the people from Wisconsin.”  

Jones agreed that it was a valid point, and a central reason why the Society is holding so many listening sessions not only in traditional public venues, but in multicultural ethnic centers and at American Indian nation sites.

“This is just the first step of the process and the beginning of our conversation,” she noted.

In her opening remarks, Jones welcomed and encouraged honest, no-holds-barred feedback.

“We’re on a journey to create this new museum,” she said. “We know that everybody’s voice is very critical to how we tell a story. … We’re engaging in these conversations because we know we’re not going to do everything right (in our initial concept design plans) and we want to have this conversation now before we actually produce exhibits. We want you to challenge us and to look at (these early ideas) from a different perspective than we did originally.”

Jones turned to the topic of memorable museum experiences, beginning with a slide show presentation of a few of the many African American-related exhibits her internationally known and respected firm has produced over the years.

“Museums are not just about the facts,” she said. “They are really about the experiences that we have. … It is more the emotional response as well as the intellectual response that we take away.”

Jones showed an example of a traveling exhibit G&A produced for the Smithsonian to mark the 50th anniversary of the landmark 1954 Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education ruling, which desegregated public schools.

At the start of the exhibit, guests are faced with a big schoolroom, with one side set up like a white school with nice desks, and the other side featuring elements of an African American school using historical data from the same time period, with benches and more inferior amenities. Meanwhile, a film is shown on a chalkboard spanning the room.

“People immediately have to make the decision of whether they’re going to take a seat (to watch the film) and which side of the schoolroom they’re going to (choose),” Jones said.

She said immersive exhibits leave a lasting impression on guests and enhance the museum experience.

“From the very beginning, people are having this awkward feeling,” she said of the “Separate but not Equal” exhibit. “If I’m white and I sit on the left, how does that make me feel? What about if I sit on the right? So you begin to have a dialogue. You don’t have to read a text panel. This is a very emotional experience.”

Jones also talked about exhibits G&A produced for the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum in Austin, Texas, and the recently produced National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta.

Jones then asked guests to take time to think about their most memorable museum experiences and share them.

A man mentioned his first visit to Society historic site Old World Wisconsin — “You come around the corner and there are live animals and people (in period costume)  and you’re dropped back in time” — and the Streets of Old Milwaukee exhibit at the Milwaukee Public Museum.

“That type of immersion is my type of museum experience,” he said.

A woman said she had a similar reaction upon visiting the Tenement Museum in New York City, which immerses guests in the squalor and dilapidated building conditions faced by immigrants on the Lower East Side of New York City from the 1860s to the 1930s, using authentic artifacts uncovered at the site.

“Those programs are so instructive when you’re immersed in the time period,” she said. Jones agreed, citing the museum as a national model at effectively creating conversations among visitors.

 An African American man recalled a vision seared into his memory from his childhood in Milwaukee which he hoped could be captured in an exhibit in Wisconsin’s new history museum.

“I was 5 years old in my mother’s arms,” he said, “and I wanted to go down on the street and play with the Army men. Well, the neighborhood was on fire … and I remember guys riding their bicycles with fur coats draped over their shoulders. They were looting the stores.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., had just been assassinated in Memphis, he said, and “we were burning up our own community. So when you see communities exploding (in modern times), this is nothing new. I was 5 years old and I remember it vividly.”

On that sobering note, Jones wrapped up the activity and turned the microphone over to Alicia Goehring, the Society’s Director of Special Projects, for final remarks.

“We definitely want to hear your voice,” Goehring emphasized. “That’s how we learn about things. Some of the comments made about the video, that’s how we know what we need to do better, so we really appreciate those comments.”

Goehring mentioned the other Madison listening sessions: Feb. 21 at the Goodman Community Center, April 10 at the Warner Park Community Center, May 8 at Centro Hispano of Dane County and June 8 at Badger Rock Neighborhood Center.

Apaloo returned to the microphone and welcomed to the stage the women’s choir from Mt. Baptist Church, which was formed in 1911 and is one of Wisconsin’s oldest, predominately African-American congregations. Its spirited, well-known and respected choirs have entertained audiences across the world for decades.

The church is well documented in the Society’s historic collections, which include decades-old photos and artifacts. One of the pictures was on display in the Society’s lobby, much to the delight of women’s choir director Tamera Stanley, whose husband, Leotha, has been Mt. Zion’s musical director for more than 25 years (and played keyboard at the event).

“I don’t know the words to describe the feeling of seeing a picture of your church from before you were even born (hanging) on the walls of this museum,” she said in amazement.

On that high note, the choir erupted into the first of two joyous, soaring, hand-clapping spiritual numbers aimed at nourishing souls within the room.

After the voices struck their final note, rejuvenated guests were excused to nourish their bodies with the culinary creations of Melly Mel’s — after just one more stop.

Decked out in colorful traditional Ghanaian Kente clothing, the talented Gbordzi led a procession through the auditorium door and into the spacious lobby of the ornate Society headquarters building, which opened in 1900.

Gbordzi’s happy rhythms echoed off the high ceilings as he guided guests around a corner, down the hallway and up the marble stairs to the second-floor library reading room, where Society curators were on hand to share a large variety of rare African American artifacts which were brought out of collections storage and put on display for the event.

Guests fill the auditorium of the Wisconsin Historical Society headquarters Feb. 19, 2019 for the "Share Your Voice" new museum public listening session, which was held in conjunction with the Society's Third Annual Black History Month Open House.

Guests fill the auditorium of the Wisconsin Historical Society headquarters Feb. 19, 2019 for the "Share Your Voice" new museum public listening session, which was held in conjunction with the Society's Third Annual Black History Month Open House. (Photo by AMADOU KROMAH)

Dr. Fannie Hicklin, 100, the first African American professor at UW-Whitewater and the first black president of the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Board of Curators, responds to a deferential request by offering her permission to proceed.

100-year-old Dr. Fannie Hicklin, who in 1964 became the first African American professor at UW-Whitewater and in 1991 was the first (and only) black president of the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Board of Curators, rises from her seat after Society Community Engagement and Diversity Liaison Tanika Apaloo, in a show of deference, asks Hicklin's "permission" to proceed with the Feb. 19, 2019 "Share Your Voice" new museum public listening session at the Society's headquarters in Madison(Photo by DEAN WITTER — Wisconsin Historical Foundation)

 Cybelle Jones of museum exhibit design firm Gallagher & Associates leads the Feb. 19, 2019 "Share Your Voice" session at the Society headquarters.

“We’re on a journey to create this new museum,” she said. “We know that everybody’s voice is very critical to how we tell a story. … We’re engaging in these conversations because we know we’re not going to do everything right (in our initial concept design plans) and we want to have this conversation now before we actually produce exhibits. We want you to challenge us." (Photo by AMADOU KROMAH)

 A young guest writes down thoughts about "What Makes Wisconsin, Wisconsin" on Post-It notes during the Feb. 19, 2019 "Share Your Voice" new museum session at the Wisconsin Historical Society headquarters.

A young guest writes down thoughts about "What Makes Wisconsin, Wisconsin" on Post-It notes during the Feb. 19, 2019 "Share Your Voice" new museum session at the Wisconsin Historical Society headquarters. 
(Photo by AMADOU KROMAH)

 Guests write down thoughts about "What Makes Wisconsin, Wisconsin" on Post-It notes during the Feb. 19, 2019 "Share Your Voice" new museum session at the Wisconsin Historical Society headquarters.

Guests write down thoughts about "What Makes Wisconsin, Wisconsin" on Post-It notes during the Feb. 19, 2019 "Share Your Voice" new museum session at the Wisconsin Historical Society headquarters. (Photo by DEAN WITTER — Wisconsin Historical Foundation)

 Fitchburg resident Ada Deer, who led the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs from 1993-97 during President Bill Clinton's administration, writes down her ideas of "What Makes Wisconsin, Wisconsin" during the Feb. 19, 2019 "Share Your Voice" session.

Fitchburg resident Ada Deer, who led the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs from 1993-97 during President Bill Clinton's administration, writes down her ideas of "What Makes Wisconsin, Wisconsin" during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum session Feb. 19, 2019 at the Society headquarters. (Photo by DEAN WITTER — Wisconsin Historical Foundation)

A young guest writes down her ideas of "What Makes Wisconsin, Wisconsin" during a workshop activity at the Feb. 19, 2019 "Share Your Voice" new museum session at the Wisconsin Historical Society headquarters.

A young guest writes down her ideas of "What Makes Wisconsin, Wisconsin" during a workshop activity at the Feb. 19, 2019 "Share Your Voice" new museum session at the Wisconsin Historical Society headquarters. (Photo by DEAN WITTER — Wisconsin Historical Foundation)

 Attendees write down their ideas of "What Makes Wisconsin, Wisconsin?" during the Feb. 19, 2019 "Share Your Voice" new museum session at the Wisconsin Historical Society headquarters in Madison.

Attendees write down their ideas of "What Makes Wisconsin, Wisconsin?" during the Feb. 19, 2019 "Share Your Voice" new museum session at the Wisconsin Historical Society headquarters in Madison. (Photo by DEAN WITTER — Wisconsin Historical Foundation)

 A woman reviews information about the Wisconsin Historical Society's plans for a new state history museum during the Feb. 19, 2019 "Share Your Voice" session at the Society headquarters in Madison.

A woman reviews a brochure about the Wisconsin Historical Society's plans for a new state history museum during the Feb. 19, 2019 "Share Your Voice" session at the Society headquarters in Madison. (Photo by DEAN WITTER — Wisconsin Historical Foundation)

 A woman offers her thoughts during the Feb. 19, 2019 "Share Your Voice" session at the Society headquarters in Madison.

A woman offers her thoughts during the Feb. 19, 2019 "Share Your Voice" session at the Society headquarters in Madison. (Photo by DEAN WITTER — Wisconsin Historical Foundation)

 A man describes his favorite museum experiences during the Feb. 19, 2019 "Share Your Voice" session at the Society headquarters in Madison.

A man describes his favorite museum experiences during the Feb. 19, 2019 "Share Your Voice" session at the Society headquarters in Madison. (Photo by DEAN WITTER — Wisconsin Historical Foundation)

 A man speaks during the Feb. 19, 2019 "Share Your Voice" session at the Society headquarters in Madison. He described a childhood memory of riots in Milwaukee and said he would like to see an exhibit related to it in a new museum.

A man speaks during the Feb. 19, 2019 "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session at the Wisconsin Historical Society headquarters in Madison. He described a childhood memory of riots in Milwaukee and said he would like to see an exhibit related to it in a new Wisconsin history museum. "When you see communities exploding (in modern times), this is nothing new," he said. "I was 5 years old and I remember it vividly.” (Photo by DEAN WITTER — Wisconsin Historical Foundation)

 Members of the women's choir from Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Madison entertain guests to close the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session Feb. 19, 2019 at the Society headquarters in Madison.

Members of the women's choir from Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Madison entertain guests to close the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session Feb. 19, 2019 at the Society headquarters in Madison. (Photo by DEAN WITTER — Wisconsin Historical Foundation)

Tamera Stanley, director of the women's choir at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Madison, gestures while leading the choir's performance at the Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session Feb. 19, 2019 at the Society headquarters.


Tamera Stanley, director of the women's choir at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Madison, gestures during the choir's rousing performance at the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session Feb. 19, 2019 at the Society headquarters in Madison. (Photo by DEAN WITTER — Wisconsin Historical Foundation)

 Decked out in traditional Ghanain Kente cloth, drummer Edi Gbordzi leads a processional up the marble stairs of the Wisconsin Historical Society's headquarters to the library reading room, where curators displayed rare African American artifacts.

Decked out in traditional Ghanain Kente cloth, drummer Edi Gbordzi leads a processional up the marble stairs of the Wisconsin Historical Society's headquarters to the library reading room, where curators displayed rare African American artifacts. (Photo by AMADOU KROMAH)

 Guests enjoy a soul food feast from Madison caterer Melly Mel's Feb. 19, 2019 in the lobby of the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison, where a "Share Your Voice" new museum session was held in conjunction with its Black History Month Open House.

Guests enjoy a soul food feast from Madison caterer Melly Mel's Feb. 19, 2019 in the lobby of the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison, where a "Share Your Voice" new museum session was held in conjunction with its Black History Month Open House. (Photo by AMADOU KROMAH)

 

 

This word cloud was created from Post-It note suggestions by attendees at the Feb. 19, 2019 "Share Your Voice" session at the Wisconsin Historical Society headquarters in Madison, which was part of the annual Black History Month Open House.

Madison (Black History Month) Word Cloud

This word cloud was created from Post-It note suggestions by attendees at the Feb. 19, 2019 "Share Your Voice" session at the Wisconsin Historical Society headquarters in Madison, which was held in conjunction with the Society's annual Black History Month Open House.

 

 

 

 

(Posted March 8, 2019)