Reflections on the "Recovering the Bones: African American Material Religion and Religious Memory" conference at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
By Ade Ofunniyin
On October 27th and 28th my colleague, Joanna Gilmore, and I attended a two-day conference, titled Recovering the Bones: African American Material Religion and Religious Memory. The conference was sponsored by the Center for the Study of African American Religious Life (CSAARL) at the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the Mall, in Washington, DC. The Center “seeks to examine and catalog the rich diversity of the African American religious experience and the various expressions of faith, belief, and spirituality among African American people through collections, research, publications, and community engagement.” The conference was convened in the Oprah Winfrey Theater.
The conference presenters included distinguished scholars, such as, Charles H. Long, University of California at Santa Barbara, Yvonne Chireau, Swarthmore College, Whitney Battle-Baptiste, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Qiana, J Whitted, University of South Carolina, Ashton T Crawley, University of Virginia, Sylviane Diouf, Lapidis Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery, New York Public Library, Dianne M Stewart, Emory University. Michael L Blakey, College of William and Mary, Nimi Wariboko, Boston University, Melvin L Butler, University of Miami, David Douglas Daniels lll, McCormick Theological Seminary, Joyce Marie Jackson, Louisiana State University, Erica Moiah James, University of Miami. The program concluded with a live performance by the Campbell Brothers. The Campbell Brothers presented “a compelling, rich variety of material from the African American Holiness Pentecostal repertoire on the steel and electric guitars.”
The conference was informative and exciting, powerful and empowering. It was wonderful to be seated in the Oprah Winfrey Theater with so many distinguished scholars of African descent from different regions of the African diaspora. An anticipated benefit for participating in the conference was being in the museum and taking time to view exhibits.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture dispels a popular myth that declared that African American people do not appreciate history and attending museums. The NMAAHC demonstrates clearly that what matters to black museum-goers is content, presentation, relevance and intention. The museum provides the needed space for people, particularly African descended people, to remember, reflect, and celebrate the richness of African culture and heritage. At last, the world can see on display, the magnanimity and triumph of African people and their descendants in the United States of America; the exhibits, and the historical context provided, tell the compelling story of the enslavement of African peoples and their long arduous journey to the present. The stories are told through the lens of an African/African American interpreter; they are our stories.
Since it’s opening, the museum has been visited by overflowing crowds. It was no different on the days that I was at the conference. The long lines to enter an exhibition area included elderly people in wheelchairs, children, and families. Most of the attendees that I observed were black; there were many shades of blackness and several whites in all of the exhibit spaces. In some spaces it was almost impossible to move about. I am certain that I will make several trips back to the NMAAHC for a more comprehensive viewing of what the museum has to offer.
Community & History News
You will find articles and videos about the connection and history of the Gullah Geechee culture as well as what's happening now. Enjoy!