Small Artifacts, Big Stories at the National Museum African American History & Culture

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The Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture is a moving display of the African American experience, but the wealth of information can, at times, be overwhelming.

The museum contains about 85,000 square feet of exhibition space on five floors, and there are nearly 3,000 objects.

While larger items like a prison tower from Louisiana's Angola prison or the Tuskegee Airmen's Stearman Kaydet are hard to miss, some of the museum's smaller artifacts can be overlooked.

Here are the stories behind some of the museum's smallest artifacts.

Erica Jones

Harry and Harriette Moore
Location: Concourse 2  Defending Freedom, Defining Freedom: Era of Segregation 1876–1968

Mounted in a shadow box on the museum's second floor are a wallet, locket and two watches that once belonged to Harry and Harriette Moore. But you would never guess by looking at them that these small, personal items survived the unimaginable.

On Christmas Day in 1951, the Moores were killed when a bomb beneath their bedroom exploded.

Harry Moore was the founder of the Bevard County, Florida, chapter of the NAACP, and in 1937, he filed the first lawsuit seeking the equal salaries between black and white teachers in the deep South.

He lost the case, but according to the NAACP, fighting for equal rights became Moore's "driving obsession." In the years before his death, Harry Moore worked tirelessly to protest "unequal salaries, segregated schools and the disenfranchisement of black voters," the NAACP says.

Harry Moore also became very involved following the 1951 shooting of two handcuffed African Americans who were in the custody of a Lake County sheriff.

He began calling for the sheriff's suspension and indictment, and six weeks later, Moore and his wife were killed. The couple's children survived the blast. 

The murder of the Moores remains unsolved. 

Ashley's Sack
Location: Concouse 1  Slavery and Freedom

Rose gave her 9-year-old daughter, Ashley, this sack when she was sold in South Carolina. Inside, there was a tattered dress, three handfuls of pecans and a braid of Rose's hair.

In 1921, Ashley's granddaughter, Ruth Middleton, embroidered her grandmother's story onto the tattered sack. 

"Told her it be filled with my love always. She never saw her again," the delicate embroidery reads. 

The sack is from the Middleton Place Plantation in Charleston, South Carolina, according to the museum. 

The Osnaburg cloth sack is made of the same material used to make slave clothing, according to the Associated Press.

Shards of Glass from 16th Street Baptist Church

Location: Concourse 2  Defending Freedom, Defining Freedom: Era of Segregation 1876–1968

After four black girls were killed in the bombing at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, two white civil rights activists carefully collected the shards of stained glass left behind by the blast.

Fifty-three years later, a shotgun shell, a stained glass rosette and 10 shards of green, pink and ivory glass call the National Museum of African American History and Culture home.

Erica Jones

The deaths of Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley became a landmark moment in the civil rights struggle. The young girls were in a bathroom in the church's basement when the bomb exploded the morning of Sept. 15, 1963, according to History.com.

Two young men, both black, were shot to death in Birmingham in the chaos that followed.

Birmingham was strictly segregated at the time of the bombing, which occurred as city schools were being racially integrated for the first time. The all-black 16th Street Baptist was a gathering spot for civil rights demonstrations for months before the blast.

The bombing became a powerful symbol of the depth of racial hatred in the South and helped build momentum for later laws, including the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Calls for the perpetrators of the bombing to be prosecuted went unanswered for more than a decade. The investigation was reopened four times over 20 years, and three members of the Ku Klux Klan were eventually convicted. 

A fourth man died before he could be brought to trial. 

The Negro Motorist Green-Book

Location: Concourse level – Sweet Home Café

Artifacts are not exclusive to the museum's exhibition halls. A bevy of artifacts are posted along the walls of the museum's cafeteria, the Sweet Home Café. 

One of the featured items is a 1940 edition of "The Negro Motorist Green-Book," a travel guide that helped keep African Americans safe on the road.

Erica Jones

The Green Book was introduced in 1936 and listed hotels, restaurants and other establishments across the United States that welcomed black customers. The guide was meant to help travelers avoid "difficulties and embarassment" while on the road, according to a a 1956 edition of the book.

"The White traveler has had no difficulty in getting accommodations, but with the Negro it has been different," the book's introduction reads.

At its height, The Green Book sold 15,000 copies per edition, according to PBS.

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