Edmonds CC honors Black History Month with a look at American history and its unspoken truths

On Feb. 8, Community Scholar Delbert Richardson brought the American History Traveling Museum to the Edmonds Community College Center for Student Cultural Diversity and Inclusion. Throughout the day, more than 200 students and employees toured the exhibit where Richardson shared his journey of self discovery. In venturing to find out who he is, where he came from, and what he's capable of, Richardson curated the Traveling Museum to share what he has learned about American history and its unspoken truths.

“It’s called the American History Traveling Museum intentionally because he who tells the story controls the narrative, and the majority of our history has been told through the white male lens. I’m not saying it’s good or bad but there are other narratives," Richardson said.

Richardson explained that many of us know Hippocrates as the father of Western medicine. What we're not taught is that long before Hippocrates there was an Egyptian physician and architect named Imhotep who was the first practitioner of medicine and the probable architect of the stepped pyramid.

"Most of us assume that Athens and Rome dominated the classical world and set Western culture or North America on its present course, but there was a third city – Alexandria, Egypt – that at its height dwarfed both Athens and Rome in scientific and artistic achievements. While Athens and Rome spread their influence through trade and war, Alexandria or Africa sought to conquer the mind. It was there that humankind first realized that the Earth was not flat, invented geometry, built the steam engine, and invented latitude and longitude," Richardson said.

In the 15th century, after centuries of progress in the arts and sciences, the transatlantic slave trade began in Africa, decimating its people, communities, and families – in the name of profit.

Richardson said enslavers asked themselves: What is the best way to bring my product to market? The solution: Loose- and tight-packed slave ships.

"Could you imagine my ancestors being on a ship where they could barely breathe and possibly being next to someone who had died? To where when they took them out, some of their body parts tore off, because they had decayed," Richardson said.

It's amazing how we've endured.

Richardson has been collecting Black Americana for more than 30 years.

All of the artifacts are authentic, not replicas. In the bottom left corner of the photo is an identification bracelet for a child.

If my child was too young to pick cotton, they would put this around the child's neck to make sure they could retain their property. The name on here is James Murphy – the enslaver's name.

The true American history story is a very graphic story, Richardson said.

Richardson explained that the "Black on Black Violence" story board illustrates the intentional destruction of the African American family unit by enslavers.

It was typical for an enslaver to have an enslaved son beat his father, for a husband to be forced to watch the slave master rape his wife, and many other cruel acts. "Let's assume that's me and my son in the picture, or me and my wife," Richardson said. "What happens when my son helps me up, and I say, 'Son, why'd you beat me so hard?' or my wife is raped in front of me. I can't protect her and she knows I can't. What happens to these relationships?"

We are still suffering from the residuals of slavery. I'm carrying 400 years of trauma in my DNA. Now I know why I don't have anger; I have rage. Now I know why I have low self esteem. Now I'm fully understanding. Now I'm in the process of self discovery and healing.

"I've taught U.S. History for many years and use the investigation of multiple history stories to help students understand that history is not one story told by one group," said Edmonds CC instructor Melody Schneider, who toured the exhibit with her students.

"History is many stories told by, and experienced by, many groups. The American History Traveling Museum added to my knowledge and understanding, so I can better serve my students. I learned of practices and experiences I knew nothing about and thus increased my ability to be an honest teacher of the historical experience."

Richardson began teaching others about American history and its unspoken truths more than 15 years ago.

The goal, he said, is to provide information to create curiosity and promote critical inquiry to find truth and build the self-esteem of African American people, who have long suffered from the trauma of slavery.

We were stolen. We were never slaves; we were people who were enslaved.
All of the feelings that come from enslavement and Jim Crow that were imposed upon me –– I don't have to own that.
The Greenlake, Laurelhurst, Broadmore, Queen Anne, and Ballard neighborhoods all had one thing in common – restrictive covenants that allowed only whites to live in those neighborhoods, with the exception of domestic servants employed by whites. People of Asiatic, African, and Jewish descent were not allowed to live in these neighborhoods and many others.

"These story boards are for my white friends here in Seattle that want to believe this only took place in the South. This shows members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), the oldest gang in America, gathering in Seattle, Bellingham, Renton, and Sedro-Wooley, and a lynching in Tacoma," Richardson said. The Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project has more information about segregation in Washington state and a database containing more than 400 racially restrictive covenants.

The "Still We Rise" section features African American inventors and those who have contributed to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

From a pencil sharpener and gas mask to the lightbulb, all of the displayed items were either invented, patented, or improved by African Americans. Richardson said the last section is the most important one of the exhibit.

This shows the courage, resilience, and intentional fortitude of my ancestors. People were being lynched at the same time that they were changing the world.

Who is Mark Dean?

Richardson said there are many African American inventors who have made significant contributions to technology. But, when asked about who's been influential in the development of computers and software, most people would name Steve Jobs or Bill Gates.

Mark Dean is an black inventor and computer engineer who developed landmark technologies for IBM and holds three of the company's nine original patents.

Black Lives Matter?

Watch Seattle Channel's video, "Delbert Richardson's American History Traveling Museum," to learn more about the museum and why Richardson added the question mark to the poster.

"I want to inspire young people to know that regardless of what they've gone through, there's still an opportunity to achieve.

This is what I found out: Africa is who I am. Inventions are what I'm capable of accomplishing. Jim Crow and slavery are two things that tried to keep me from who I am and what I could accomplish.

And, that's my story."

–Delbert Richardson, community scholar

This event was co-sponsored by Edmonds CC's Department of Equity and Inclusion; Arts, Culture, and Civic Engagement committee; the Center for Student Cultural Diversity and Inclusion; and the Associated Students of Edmonds Community College.

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