We are all African-Americans
We are all African-Americans
SAN FRANCISCOfound at
November 27, 2005
Thousands preview African museum Moad in SF
Effie Lee Morris stood on the stairs inside San Francisco's new Museum of the African Diaspora on Saturday afternoon and saw herself in the mosaic of photographs that form, from afar, the face of a girl.
She felt special but also part of a larger world community and hoped that the thousands who showed up that day felt the same way.
"That's me at 6 months on a bearskin rug," she said, pointing at the sepia-toned photograph on the wall. "That's me. I'm so excited."
If others "look, they will find something of themselves," added Morris, a former coordinator of children's services for the San Francisco Public Library who has closely followed the birth of the museum. "Everyone ... will be represented here. It's humankind, and it all came out of Africa."
The goal of the museum's creators is for everyone to see themselves here -- if not literally, then in spirit -- and to understand that humanity's origins began in Africa.
On the first day the public could view the museum, thousands toured the 20,000-square-foot space filled with interactive multimedia displays and modern art -- a museum designed to be accessible to all ages, races and ethnicities.
Saturday was a free preview, but the museum's official opening is Dec. 3 -- time enough to put the finishing touches on a project that was a decade in the making. Some stairs are still just rough wood planks, some electrical outlets don't have covers, and some exhibits still need explanatory plaques. But no one seemed to notice Saturday.
"Museums like this are priceless, particularly museums that deal with African heritage," said Omar P.L. Moore of San Francisco as he toured the second floor. "In our society we're not taught to look at the African contribution, and it's not really a contribution -- it's the start of civilization."
The typical image that comes to mind with the words "Africa" and "museum" is a tribal mask behind glass, but MoAD strives to tell the story of the African diaspora in a new way.
In one round room, a video display showed people of different races and ethnicities talking about what connects humanity as an African drumbeat sounded in the background: things like faith and love of family and celebrations of major events like marriage. In another room, people could listen to music with African roots on interactive computer monitors.
What struck Alex Ortiz, 16, of San Pablo was the collection of 2,700 photographs in sepia tone that formed the digitized mosaic "Face of the African Diaspora," created by Robert Silvers of Los Angeles and based on a picture of an African girl by New York Times photographer Chester Higgins Jr. -- the same mural Morris found herself in.
He also couldn't believe the nearly 2-million-year-old stone tools made in Africa. Ortiz visited MoAD as part of an African American studies class at Contra Costa College in San Pablo.
"I'm kind of shocked to hear all these cultures come from one certain place," he said. "I never thought about that - that everyone comes from Africa."
Danielle Beebe, 58, of San Francisco, found that aspect of MoAD the most interesting, too.
"When we talk to African Americans, they would say 'Africa is where I come from' and isolate themselves from the rest of the population," she said. "We are all African Americans in this country because we all originated there. The oldest human has been found in Africa. It was a good reminder."
Certain exhibits evoked deep emotions for some. In one dimly lit room, visitors sat on benches lining the walls and listened to the stories of slaves. Betty Brandon of San Francisco thought back to growing up with her grandparents in Texas in the 1940s.
"It's almost overwhelming, it's so outstanding," she said of the museum. "It engenders so many feelings from the past. ... It reminds me of all the difficulties of growing up in that time with the Klan."
Journalist Belva Davis, president of the museum's board of directors, was afraid no one would show, but shortly before the doors opened at noon, a throng had ballooned onto Mission Street for the ribbon-cutting ceremony and speeches by former Mayor Willie Brown and San Francisco Supervisor Bevan Dufty, making it difficult for cars to pass. At 3 p.m., people were still lined up down the block to the corner of Third waiting to get in.
Janis Jinks of San Francisco brought her mother, Pearlie Ewing of Tennessee, as well as three children, two grandchildren, a niece, son-in-law and daughter. The city has the Asian Art Museum, Jinks said, and it needed one on African art as well."It's education for the children," Ewing added.
Because there were no explanatory plaques on the third floor, 26-year-old Jessica Fink was happy that museum volunteers were on hand to explain what the various pieces meant, like the Franciscan robes laid out on wooden pallets or the silver service pieces strewn on the floor. But she was most thankful to be in a racially and ethnically diverse crowd enjoying art together, something she hasn't experienced much since she moved to San Francisco from New York three years ago.
"San Francisco doesn't offer that cultural diversity in extracurricular activities a lot of the time," she said.
Allison Williams, an architect on the board of directors, said she doesn't know of any place like MoAD.
"San Francisco has something that's innovative and a fresh way of bringing people together over heritage," she said. "But it's more than a museum about art or slavery. It's really about the history of a people and the history of mankind. People step into this place not knowing what they're going to learn."
If you go
Public opening: Saturday
685 Mission St., San Francisco
Admission: $8 general, $5 seniors and students
Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday (closed Tuesday)
More info: www.moadsf.org or (415) 358-7200
E-mail Carrie Sturrock at firstname.lastname@example.org.