April was a scant time of new-place visits for me, but I did kick off the month with an impactful cultural experience, a visit to the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit.
I’d long been wanting to visit the museum and was excited to finally make it happen one Saturday afternoon. A friend joined me for the experience.
The Charles H. Wright Museum building is impressive in its beauty, especially the glass ceiling dome at the center of it. Entering it, we were greeted by friendly museum staff members, who explained the admission options. We opted for general admission rather than admittance to the special exhibits and spent several hours touring the museum.
The general exhibits are an impressive collection of historical artifacts, fact boards, and experiential displays. We started at the beginning, learning about cultural practices of ancient African nations, then worked our way through exhibits around the slave trade and slavery in America; the Civil War and the Reconstruction era; the Civil Rights movement; and the history of African-Americans in Detroit.
The exhibits were a sobering experience to take in. The walk through a reproduction of the hold of a slave ship, with depictions of males, females, and children chained and packed together so tightly, as audio of moaning and wailing played over a loudspeaker was especially emotional for me, almost overwhelming. I cannot fathom what it would be like to be in such an experience, taken from your home against your will and chained up in these tight quarters, lying in your and everyone else’s waste, subjected to extreme cruelty. . ..
It was pretty hard for me to not lose faith in humanity going through this slave ship reproduction and many other exhibits, such as one where a slave trader is rattling off stats about people for sale as if they were cattle. Again, the fact that such a barbaric practice as the buying, selling, and controlling of people was at one time an accepted institution in this country is mind-boggling to me.
It was a moment of emotional respite for me to get to the part of the museum that depicted neighborhoods of Detroit that were historically African-American, such as Black Bottom. It included an expansive representation of the cityscape from that time, with depictions of businesses that you could walk right into such as a drug store with a soda fountain and a barbershop with a mannequin barber cutting hair, which I found super fun. I did not find fun the fact that Black Bottom was demolished to make room for the Chrysler Freeway and other development projects.
The Charles H. Wright Museum does an excellent job of reminding one of these sordid aspects of American history. It’s also a beautiful testament to the strength and resilience of African-Americans in the face of horrific brutality, racism, and oppression. Locals and visitors to the Metro-Detroit area alike could benefit from paying a visit to this informative and impactful institution.
315 E. Warren Ave.
Detroit, MI 48201