by Taki S. Raton
Metaphysicist Dr. Phil Valentine in his “Hidden Colors 2” opening remarks shared that “The one thing we can say about African people is that we left evidence of ourselves all over the planet and throughout all annals of time starting with humankind beginnings.” He adds that the deeper European scientists dig, the Blacker the planet gets.”
As part of this month’s Black History featured offerings, a seven case display installation noting select examples of such evidence as cited by Valentine visually highlights the second floor M Building south corridor.
Themed “Exemplar Invention & Mastery of the African World – Presence, Accomplishment, Contribution, the exhibit is designed in its purpose to reclaim and visually demonstrate the unbroken legacy of Black mastery and accomplishment on the world stage of time and achievement.
The phrasing “African world” is employed to both exact a global presence throughout human existence and second to reconnect if not indeed liberate the peculiar Black historical circumstance on these North American shores to the African global continuum of accomplishment, invention, and civilizing presence.
In scholarship, research, exploratory reflections, writing and elementary through higher education instruction, it is within this context to which the next level of Black History can evolve.
Black History should be confined to the mere imposed and later forced 317 years of presence on American soil from 1619 to the current day, but studied within and as a connective, continuing part of the global African experience from humankind beginnings into the modern era.
The viewer in the opening case is introduced to an 18” X 24” photograph of Edward Alexander Bouchet (1852-1918), the first African American to earn a doctorate in the United States.
He received his Ph.D. in physics at Yale in 1876. Bouche was also the first African American to be nominated to Phi Beta Kappa. He was inducted into this esteem honor society in 1884.
He received summa cum laude honors in all of his undergraduate courses and ranked sixth in his 1864 graduation class.
He would earn his physics doctorate in just two years and became at that time among only 20 Americans of any race to receive a Ph.D. in physics and was the sixth to earn a Ph.D. in physics from Yale.
The selection of Bouchet as a display visual opener sets the tone to underscore our historical models that have excelled over, above, and beyond the imposed circumstances of oppression, racism, discrimination, Euro-Supremacy, and even the broadfield horrors of enslavement to strike their mark in the corridors of achievement and mastery.
Bouchet is by no means atypical of this experience. During the era of the sixteen through 1900’s – whether enslaved, free or impacted by Jim Crow laws – Black people in this country masterfully excelled in such corridors of eminence thereby forging yet another chapter in this next level of African American historiography. Case six and seven in the exhibit would highlight, for example Garret A. Morgan who invented the gas mask in 1914 and the traffic signal in 1923.
Aside from being born in slavery, Henry Ossian Flipper rose to become in 1877 the first African American West Point graduate. Born into slavery, Fannie Jackson Coppin would rise to become the first African American woman to head an institution of higher learning in 1865, the Institute for Colored Youth, now Cheyney University in Pennsylvania.
The first machine to make a complete shoe was invented in 1883 by Jan Ernest Metzeliger.
Sold into slavery, Phyllis Wheatly was just a teenager when in 1773, thirty-one of her poems were published in her book, “Poems of Various Subjects, Religious and Moral,” the first book of writings published by an African American.
Bessie Coleman on June 15, 1921 would become the first African American woman to earn a pilot’s license.
Richard Greener became the first African American to graduate from Harvard in 1870 and Rebecca Lee Crumpler would become the first African American woman to earn a medical degree, earning a Doctress of Medicine degree in 1864.
Returning to opening case, a pointed quote by noted author, anthropologist and Hunter College professor Dr. Marimba Ani reminds us that being African is in our genes, in our DNA, in “your entire biological make up.
Whether you like it or not, that’s the way it is.” This passage is provided to link Bouchet’s and era contemporaries with the proud ethno-cultural legacy of the broader African world achievement continuum as opposed to the Western view of Black individuals who may be “exceptional” or otherwise uniquely “gifted” in their respective areas.
Relative to primal inventiveness, case two briefly examines the Old and Middle Stone Age which was decidedly African and not in Europe. Spanning over 200,000 years from 2, 50,000 B.C.E. well into 50,000 B.C.E., these first Africans learned how to make pottery, polish stone tools, grow food, raise and domesticate animals.
This visual segment additionally details that the first “European” was African, introduction the global migration out of African and the civilizing settlements of African populations throughout the known world.
Case four explores samples of Kemet (Egyptian) the African creation and world contribution of the oldest monuments in the form of the Giza Pyramids, temple architecture, medicine, maritime science, Kemetic cosmology and the world’s first board game called “Senet” believed to be a precursor to Chess, and Checkers.
We are introduced to the Olmec Head in case five noting the African presence in the Americas 2,656 years before Columbus and the first Zodiac marking the creation of the world’s first 365-day calendar – to include “Leap Year” – 6,249 years ago in 4236 B.C.E.
And much thanks and gratitude again to “Hidden Colors” 1 and 2 with their explorations of the Moorish occupation and civilizing of Europe for 781 years from 711 A.D. to January 2, 1492 A.D.
The MATC display includes examples of this era in African world history presenting visuals of Moorish architecture, surgical tools, two Moors playing what appears to be a game of Chess, musical instruments and a water wheel.
Narrative copy cites that the Moors produced in the Arabic language great literature and research covering every subject known to man in these medieval times to include religious studies, language, history, geography, medicine, mathematics, music, art, astronomy, philosophy and poetry.
“Exemplar Invention & Mastery” closes in case 7 with a montage of modern day achievers to include such examples as first African American woman astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison, Vernice Armor, the first Black female Marine Corp combat pilot, nuclear scientist, Dr. Lloyd Quarterman who was involved in the Manhattan Project which developed the Atomic Bomb, James E. West, inventor of the Electroacustic Transducer Electret Microphone, and the first African American all-female flight crew to operate a commercial jet on the Atlanta-based Delta Connection carrier Atlantic Southeast Airlines.
This particular final case also features select examples from an area community newspaper series “Young, Gifted & Black” sharing masterful accomplishments by our young people from elementary levels through college and in Olympic and entertainment arenas.
As Dr. Booker T. Coleman avidly expresses in “Hidden 2,” “The colors have been hidden.
“They are not lost. They’re hidden. Lost, you may never find. Hidden, you just have to look for them.”
The exhibit is conceived, created and designed by African Global Images, Inc., and is presented at the downtown MATC campus under the sponsorship of the President’s Diversity Council and the MATC Black Student Union.
For additional inquires on the Black History Month installation, please contact Marvette Cox at (414) 297-8027.
by Taki S. Raton