The only known survivor of a racially motivated lynching once told me of the discovery that sparked his interest in creating America’s Black Holocaust Museum.
Historian James Cameron, founder of the museum and a former columnist for the Black newspaper I once edited (the one you’re holding), revealed how a friend made a startling discovery upon moving into a duplex near Hopkins and Villard Street.
In the attic, the brother found an old trunk which contained Klu Klux Klan clothing and other racist memorabilia.
Knowing of Cameron’s interest in the KKK and its historic role in the lynching of thousands of Black men, women and children (some for the “unforgiveable sin” of looking a white person in the eyes or not saying “yes sir” or “yassah boss” loud enough) the brother donated the clothing to Cameron for use as he saw fit.
Cameron was well aware of the rules of American racism and apartheid having grown up in an area of Indiana where Klan dominance was an accepted reality.
In his book, “A Time of Terror,” Cameron recounted how he and two older friends were accused of raping a white woman in 1930. They were rounded up and jailed without benefit of the legal safeguards we take for granted today.
But before they had their day in court, they were broken out of jail by an angry mob hell-bent on lynching them.
While his colleagues did suffer that fate–to the cheers of “law-abiding Christians” including women and smiling children—Cameron was spared after an appeal by one truly righteous citizen who stood in opposition to the racist culture of the township.
Many years later, Cameron decided to make it his life mission to collect artifacts to document his and similar atrocities that defined the “home of the freaks and land of the Milwaukee Braves.”
Cameron would add the KKK outfit to artifacts he collected for his first exhibit at America’s Black Holocaust Museum, which was created for the dual purpose of introducing people to the horrors inflected on African Americans in this country by White Supremacists, the U.S. government and so-called Christian leaders, and sparking a dialogue about race relations that would lead to racial reconciliation, if not harmony.
The exhibits included artifacts dating back to our ancestors’ capture and transport from the shores of the Motherland, to school books that distort U.S. history and God’s words to sustain White Supremacy.
The museum attracted thousands the world over during its operation at three different sites, until it was eventually victimized by a lack of financial support from philanthropists (some of whom felt it inappropriate to call the Maafa a “holocaust”), and African Americans.
Like a lot of African American institutions, the museum closed its doors in 2004 because we—Black Milwaukeeans—didn’t understand the museum’s intrinsic value or preferred weaves and weed to wisdom and awakening.
A commitment by the developers of a new housing complex— appropriately called the Griot complex— and the city, however, has set the stage for the museum’s reopening. It will be run by a distinguished board and Cameron family members.
The final piece of the puzzle was a matching grant of $100,000 from County Executive Chris Abele earlier this year.
By summer, the new facility—rebuilt on the site of its former home on 4th and North Avenue—will reopen. And within a year or so, may be joined by the Wisconsin Black Historical Society/Museum, which plans to relocate to the site where the state DNR building rest a block away.
Those two attractions will provide a cultural connection to the Bronzeville area and hopefully spur an influx of tourism for those brave enough to explore various exhibits illuminating the evils of White Supremacy, bigotry and apartheid.
I say brave enough because many millennials have been fed a diet of misinformation and don’t recognize how they have benefited from White Supremacy’s step child: White Privilege.
Many Whites are in denial about the true history of this country or want to hide that sorted past under the sheets (no pun intended) or wish it away.
Fortunately, the museum will be located a half mile north of the YWCA headquarters, which is home to the city’s most comprehensive racial justice program, known for its classes on the roots of racism and its influence on American culture.
The program has as its mission the eradication of racism, a process that must include acknowledgement of its roots and continued application.
(I fully appreciate the Y’s program, and if followed, I figure racism will be eradicated in America in about…oh…1,123 years, 25 hours after the arrival of Martians, or the day after the presidential election of a transgender, Mexican/Iraqi Muslim. Whichever comes first).
Obviously, these two educational venues will make Milwaukee unique among American cities and may even spark a one-sided national discussion about racism and White Supremacy.
But something is missing from this equation. There’s another elephant in the room (or street corner) that has for far too long been ignored or obscured from public view, hidden away like the KKK uniforms that were stowed in that attic on Hopkins and Villard…or, Thomas Jefferson’s recently discovered slave sex room, or Donald Trump’s tax returns.
What is needed to complete an afternoon educational journey for tourists and citizens—Black and white—is a museum that explores the rationale and benefits of racism and White Supremacy. We can call it a “Bureau of Bigotry,” or a “Palace of Prejudice.” Maybe a “Museum of Racism and Riches.”
By whatever title, what we need is a museum that provides the White Supremacist’s perspective, where curators justify the supposed sins against God and mankind, slavery and Jim Crow and apartheid.
Maybe segregation and racial separation was a necessary evil to distinguish the good (White) people from the savage, uncivilized and immoral dark-skinned beings.
In case you didn’t know it, most of the framers of the constitution believed Africans were inferior beings. Even Abe Lincoln believed that, and said so in speeches not studied classrooms.
Truth of the matter is,most Christian churches supported slavery, since it is condoned, if not endorsed in the Bible.
The White Supremacist museum could start with the basic premise of Manifest Destiny, and provide an accepted worldview that Africans are the inferior, cursed stepchildren of Nyame, and Ham (as if we are the descendants of someone named after a pig).
The new museum would seek to justify the atrocities inflicted on Africans and African Americans and undermine our vast contributions to this nation. It would also justify the behavior of entire White families who “picnicked” at public lynching’s, supported segregation and denied equal opportunity to people of color because…well…they were people of color!
There could be presentations at the racism museum explaining why tax dollars should continue to be used to maintain racist monuments around the country, a point I agree with for the same reasons I support my tax dollars being forwarded to America’s Black Holocaust Museum.
The racist museum could be located across the street from the Holocaust museum at the former home of Black Gem products, a grocery chain that served a segregated Black community when we were legally confined to a small area on the northside.
What about an exhibit chronicling the racist policies of former Police Chief Harold Breier, who planted the seeds for racial profiling? You remember
“Breier the Bigot,” don’t you? He’s the one who testified against school desegregation, saying it would “bus crime across town.”
A racist museum would go a long way toward explaining how 62 million Americans could vote for 45IQ, and support his lunacy including declarations that Mexicans are rapists and drug dealers, all Muslims are terrorists and Mona Lisa was a man.
Study and examine history along side “His-story” and you’ll begin to understand why apartheid continues to this day, and why 50 years after the open housing marches, a Black man still can’t drive through the Southside without fear of being harassed, if not murdered by a slave catcher (i.e. one of the city’s finest.
It’ll also explain why Congress refuses to vote on an anti-lynching bill and reparations for the survivors of slavery will be debated during the presidential elections.
So even though the brother who gave James Cameron the Klan outfit was surprised to find it in a central city house—previously owned by a White family—James was not. But it did enhance his belief that the only way we can build a future is to first study our past.
But Cameron’s museum only provided one side of the debate. I say create a complement, a museum to provide a voice from the other side. After all, can you truly appreciate Nyame (God) if you didn’t know the alternative was the devil?