Black History Month – Thoughts from the Curator

"Men coming to work at Greenbelt." Carl Mydans, July 1936. Library of Congress. The badges they are wearing denote whether each man was a skilled or unskilled worker.

“Men coming to work at Greenbelt.” Carl Mydans, July 1936. Library of Congress. The badges they are wearing denote whether each man was a skilled or unskilled worker.

Recent conversations in the media about Black History Month have been thought-provoking. See this article, for instance, about whether or not our country still needs a Black History Month. Here at the Greenbelt Museum, however, we believe we absolutely do, because despite the town’s many other progressive and experimental elements, Greenbelt began in 1937 as a segregated community. I began work here in 2007 and more than once since then have been asked why we speak to museum visitors about Greenbelt’s segregated history, “They (African Americans) weren’t here, so they aren’t really part of the story.” To which I have repeated that this part of the community’s history is even more important as a result of that fact. The omission of an entire group of people and the reasons why are, indeed, a very big part of the story.

African American workers labored alongside white workers in the construction of  Greenbelt in 1936 and 1937. One can only imagine their frustration at not being able, then, to actually apply for housing here. And to the best of our knowledge, Greenbelt did not begin to become more diverse until the late 1960s and early 1970s.  So we at the Greenbelt Museum believe we absolutely continue to need Black History Month.  Privileging the history of African Americans for a month, can not and will not ever begin to address generations’ worth of violence, prejudice, hardship,  and so, so much worse,  and in an ideal world, that history should be incorporated into all of the narratives that make up our nation’s history, but hopefully, by raising awareness, and by attempting to create a safe space and forum for discussions about race to take place, we here at the Museum can begin to help.  Of course, publishing a photo featuring African American workers at Greenbelt is a tiny gesture, but the Museum made a larger one last year, one we are dedicated to continuing. In conjuction with the city’s 75th anniversary, we established an Archive of the African American Experience in Greenbelt to formalize the collection of this part of Greenbelt’s story.  We welcome photos, reminiscences, thoughts and remarks. If you have something to share, please contact us at greenbeltmuseum@gmail.com. For more information about this topic, please see an earlier post here.

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