New photo exhibit pictures black America in racially riven US
AFP - Saturday, January 31
WASHINGTON (AFP) - - A week and a day after Barack Obama was sworn in as the first African-American president of the United States, Larry Owens lingered on photos at an exhibit on black Americans in racially riven 20th-century Washington.
"It takes me back to when I moved to Washington as a teenager in 1966," the 56-year-old who works as a security guard at the American History Museum, where the exhibit opened to the public on Friday, told AFP.
"That used to be Griffith Stadium, where the Senators baseball team played," he said, referring to Howard University Hospital.
"You used to be able to pay two dollars and go watch a game.
"After you came from one of them games, you had a choice: you could go to Ben's Chili Bowl and have a hot dog, or right next-door to the Wonder Bread factory, where you could get a slice of Wonder Bread for 25 cents," Owens reminisced.
"These are wonderful memories ... if I could just turn back the hands of time," said Owens, longing for the bygone era portrayed in the photographs of black photographer Addison Scurlock and his sons, Robert and George.
Twentieth-century Washington was rife with racial tension and light on opportunities for minorities, but the Scurlock photos hold a nostalgia for many blacks.
The exhibit, called "Picturing the Promise" was unveiled in a gallery reserved for works depicting African-American history and culture in a wing of the recently renovated American History Museum.
"African-American history is not a new subject for us -- it's included in many of the exhibits -- but we felt it was a good opportunity to have this exhibit because it will be several years before the African-American history museum opens," said the American History Museum's director Bill Glass.
Portraits shot in the studio on Washington's U Street that Addison Scurlock opened in 1911 dominate "Picturing the Promise."
They show black icons including jazz great Duke Ellington, a neighbor of the Scurlocks; Sidney Poitier, the first African-American to win an Academy Award for acting; and Lillian Evans Tibbs who made her opera debut in Nice, southern France in 1925, rose to international fame but was not allowed to perform at many venues in the racially segregated United States.
In the hundreds of mostly black and white photographs on display, the Scurlocks also capture everyday moments in Washington's African-American community.
The images chronicle how black Americans lived in the racially divided US capital, how they began to push back the boundaries of prejudice and reach for their share of the American dream, how their world erupted in violence when civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated in 1968.
Russell Tilghman, who also had a preview of the exhibit, said it "speaks to where the dream was and where we need to be.
"With Obama in the White House, we're much closer to the dream and the promise they talk about in the exhibit, but it's still a work in progress," he said.
"If we start feeling we've achieved it all, we'll start to drift, forget where we came from," said Tilghman.
One of the pictures in the exhibition, shows beautiful actress Fredi Washington looking over her right shoulder, a now politically incorrect cigarette in her left hand.
Washington played a young black girl who tries to pass off as white because she is ashamed of her African-American heritage, in the 1934 version of "Imitation of Life", which starred Claudette Colbert.
"Despite her beauty and talent, Washington's film career stalled when she refused to limit herself to playing the roles of domestics," the caption under the exhibition portrait reads.
The exhibit runs until November 15, just over a year after Obama was elected and 10 months after he was sworn in as nearly two million people watched on the National Mall, the park in Washington where Africans were once held in slave pens, Civil War troops were billeted, and civil rights leader King gave his stirring "I have a dream" speech.
"I cried at the inauguration," said Owens.
"It was the day after King's birthday, about 40 years after he made his speech ... I couldn't believe it was happening," the veteran of the Vietnam war and 1991 invasion of Iraq told AFP.
"Someone reminded me that day that slaves built the White House.
"Well, I bet every slave that died building it and every other slave is having such a party in there right now," he said.
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This Smithonian Institution (SI) handout show opera singer Marian Anderson performing in 1939 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. The work is part of a photography exibit at the Smithsonian's American History Museum entitled "Picturing the Promise," aiming to depict African-American history and culture.
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