Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Each day this week, I'm spotlighting a Charlotte-area person or organization that is making black history.

There are two extremely important and culturally relevant exhibits on display at Charlotte museums: RACE: Are We So Different? at Discovery Place and COURAGE: The Carolina Story That Changed America at Levine Museum of the New South. Each of these exhibits gives context and insight into what we think we know, and if you visit them you should walk away with a level of understanding that could shape how you view issues we're currently facing in society.

RACE is a project of American Anthropological Association and is on display at Discovery Place until May 8. The traveling exhibit offers visitors an opportunity to explore the science of human variation, the history of the idea of race, and the contemporary experience of race and racism in the U.S. According to the exhibit and contrary to what we're accustomed to, science has shown that humankind cannot be divided into races or categories. Genetically, humans fall on a continuum--short to tall, thin to fat, pale to dark--and there are no clear places to divide people into groups.

RACE is explored through interactive activities, multimedia presentations, contemporary and historical photography, unique artifacts, and thought-provoking questions. There are more than 30 exhibits and activities in the 5,000-square-foot exhibition. Highlights of the experience include:

  • The Colors We Are: Visitors scan their skin and watch the image appear on the screen next to dozens of other visitors. Then, participants are challenged to consider whether skin shade equals race.
  • Who’s Talking: Visitors are invited to match voices they hear with people in photos based on speech patterns and inflection. The results are surprising.
  • The Hapa Project: Through photographs and words of people who consider themselves to be multiracial. Museum-goers experience issues of race and racial categories.
  • Creating Race: Tells the story of how the idea of race was created in the 17th and 18th centuries in response to political, economic and social forces.

For more details on RACE: Are We So Different?, visit

Next, we go from race to education--actually to an exhibit that's primarily about race and education. COURAGE is on display at Levine Museum through January 2012. The exhibit tells the story of the Rev. J.A. De Laine and other brave citizens of Clarendon County, S.C., who brought the first lawsuit in America challenging racial segregation in public schools. Combined with four other national lawsuits, the result was the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled that racial segregation of schools was unconstitutional.

COURAGE is comprised of personal histories, photographs, artifacts, and interactive components, including one that shows you how far some black children in Clarendon County had to walk to school when the local school district wouldn't provide buses for them (nine miles, which is the equivalent of walking from Uptown Charlotte to Carowinds).

Even though the exhibit chronicles a period in our history that those of us who were born after can't even fathom how segregation could've existed for so long, it should help us put our current challenges into perspective. Nearly 60 years later, we still aren't providing equal education to all children in this country, because that essentially is what the Rev. J.A. De Laine and members of his community wanted for their children--and was one of the primary issues during the Civil Rights Movement.

It's also inspiring to know how the De Laine children went on to become college educated and have successful careers, despite all of the hurdles they faced. The Rev. De Laine’s daughter Ophelia is a retired college professor living in New Jersey; son B.B. is a retired educator; and son Joe is a retired chemist. B.B. and Joe live here in Charlotte.

For more details on COURAGE: The Carolina Story That Changed America, visit


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