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Posted September 9, 2016

Smithsonian Institute Releases ‘Dream A World Anew’ in Honor of the National Museum of African American History & Culture

By Arelya J. Mitchell, Publisher/Editor-in-Chief

The Mid-South Tribune and the Black Information Highway

Well, it took the Smithsonian Institution long enough to recognize the contribution of African Americans, and of course, the same can be said of a nation which has failed miserably in acknowledging both the sin and successful business of slavery. Yes, successful in that it was slave labor which made cotton king not only in the United States but in the world; thus, giving the U.S. an economic seat in international affairs (One has to only examine the economic and moral strife France and Great Britain were under during the Civil War on which side to back).  King Cotton elevated even Mississippi among the richest states in the Union. Memphis, TN (named in honor of Memphis, Egypt) at one time was called the Wall Street of the South because of its cotton factoring businesses. But I digress.


            In celebration of the launch of Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History & Culture on September 24, 2016, Smithsonian Books will release “Dream A World Anew”. I received a galley of this work; therefore, got an advance reading of an anthology of essays enriched in historical context. I was only disappointed in a couple of items such as not seeing a mention of the late Isaac Hayes as having been the first African American to win an Academy Award for Best Song for his Theme from the Shaft movie and at not seeing a mention of the late Rufus Thomas who created such world dance crazes as “Walking the Dog” and the “Funky Chicken”. Yes, I may very well be somewhat biased because I knew these two gifted musicians, but still there are few who can argue that they did not make an impact on modern music.  I am truly hoping that a second volume of this excellent work is in the making and that these two are given their due in the music section of the next book.


            Also, “Dream A World Anew” should be marketed to white Americans, because even though not enough African Americans know much about their history, white Americans on the whole remain completely ignorant and/or ambivalent when it comes to the contributions of African American citizens.  The contributors to this work can put a dent into negative perceptions. Furthermore, there could be a strong argument that “Dream” should be included in junior high and high school American history curriculum.    


As I said earlier, I received a galley of this work which means that certain areas might be corrected, rewritten—you know, as we all have to do when we’re on our final draft, but be that as it may, I shall chance taking the following quote from the National Museum of African American History & Culture founding director Lonnie G. Bunch III who lays out poignantly the ‘why’ of this book: “It is this scholarship that defines and undergirds the organization of this publication. While no book or museum can be encyclopedic, ‘Dream a World Anew’ offers an account that provides a sense of clarity and accessibility to the complicated narrative of the African American experience. One of the key ways to understand this history is to use both chronological and thematic lenses. So the overarching framework, like that of the museum, offers a chronological sweep that takes one from fifteenth century West Africa and Europe into the United States of the twenty-first century. This chronology is divided into three periods: from slavery to freedom, from the era of the institutionalization of segregation through the Civil Rights Movement, and the struggle to redefine the recent past since 1968…” 


            “Dream” is further divided into four chapters and within those chapters are some muscular articles—which I would like to define as essay-studies, because each author gives his/her perspective inside of a history lesson.  These essays are enlightening and as comprehensive as one can make them within a limited framework analysis of ‘history and culture’ of a people going from slavery to citizenry. It is as up-to-date as possible, even including the Black Lives Matter Movement.

 These four chapters and their respective editors are: “Chapter One: Slavery and Freedom” by David W. Blight; “Chapter two: The Struggle from Freedom” by Spencer R. Crew and Peniel E. Joseph; “Chapter Three: Making AWay Out of No Way” by Alfred A. Moss, Jr.; and “Chapter Four: The African American Influence on American Culture” by Mel Watkins. I want to reiterate that these are the editors, because within each chapter are the works of individual authors who take the reader on this excursion into African American history within the confines of American history; thus, inflicting neglected realism into American ‘white-centric’ history. The traditional way of defining American history has not been ‘true’ because American history should not have been solely viewed as Euro-rooted when what has made America unique and prosperous is that it has been multi-rooted (or that proverbial ‘melting pot’) since its pre-13 colony period. Read this book and learn more.


“Dream” explores little known events such as the slave petition in a 1779 Connecticut which reads:  “We beg leave to submit… whether it is consistent with the present claims of the United States to hold so many thousands of the race of Adam… in perpetual slavery.” This event is in a piece written by Rex M. Ellis who goes in-depth on the political arguments which led to what became the Three-Fifths Compromise, based on the belief that African Americans were three-fifths a human being. 

            Another interesting segment, “Slavery and Capitalism” examines African Americans who served in the American Revolutionary War. It is also a book of rare photos. Poetry is also utilized to bridge both the spirit and atmosphere of historical

events. Among the works included are from poets Robert Hayden, Maya Angelou, Phillis Wheatley, Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughes—just to mention a few.   Then there is the story of Black newspapers and Black media where such giants as John H. Johnson, the founder of Ebony magazine, and John Russwurm who is considered the Father of the Black Press, are portrayed.


There, too, is yet another story that lies within the footnotes and other references on how documents, rare photos, sketches, artifacts, etc. were discovered to create this book and the museum itself.


 Families and persons across the color spectrum will not lose by investing in this printed journey of African American history which is American history.  And yes, even a trip to the National Museum of African American History & Culture will be worth the investment. This time one can take the 21st Century Underground Railroad by automobile, bus, train, or plane.