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Cause Magazine


The exhibit highlights four main imprints that African Americans have made: economic, social, political, cultural and spiritual. Despite the bleakness of slavery, as a people African Americans had a powerful and undeniable impact on our cul- ture, our nation and our world.


As you enter through the wooden Door of No Return-- an actual door from the historic Cape Coast Castle in Ghana--you are haunted by the fact that enslaved Africans were locked up sometimes for months at a time, awaiting ships that would take them across the Atlantic on the horrific Middle Passage and on to a life of bondage in the New World. This is the final door they were led through to board departing ships. In that first gallery, beyond the doors lie an assortment of grim relics: leg shackles and neck chains; census forms counting blacks as three-fifths of a person; a cotton gin; a ladies' matching vanity set comprised of silver brush, comb, mirror, and small whip. These somber items are powerful evidence of centuries of cruelties and injustice.


As you move through the exhibit, little by little, the gloom


lifts. In one showcase there is a document with text that reads: "On the 1st day of January, A.D. 1863, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free..." It is a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation which bears the actual signature of Abraham Lincoln.


A large old flag in another area catches your attention. It has the words "Black Brigade of Cincinnati" embossed over the faded Star Spangled Banner. You learn that the nation's first


black brigade was conscripted in Cincinnati and this is their flag. Other galleries examine the antislavery movement, the Civil


War, the failures of Reconstruction, the contributions of black American culture, the civil rights movement, and importance of black churches.


The economic impact is also powerfully illustrated. African Americans provided the economic engine for America. Enslavement was critical to the young nation’s growth in the South and the North. It generated wealth for everyone but African Americans with estimates topping a present day value of 22 trillion dollars. More than money, African Americans cher- ished freedom and despite hardship and obstacles they perse- vered and found ways to fight for it—even if it was often only won one small battle at a time. Perhaps the greatest social imprint engendered is the fact that out of struggle and enslavement, African Americans created the modern template for all who wish to escape to freedom, and for all those that demand equal rights. Enter the America I Am exhibit and you take a powerful


journey, retracing some of the first steps of a long march that lead, only a few months ago, to a black man becoming commander in chief of the world’s most powerful nation. But, more important, viewers should come away realizing that this is not simply the “Black” story. Rather, it is the American story. “America I AM.” “America I AM: The African American Imprint” runs through May 3, 2009 at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. For information phone (215) 409-6700, or log on to www.constitutioncenter.org. For more details about the exhibit and for other cities and tour dates visit www.americaiam.org


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