The Virtual Black History Museum: Made in SL and more

The Virtual Black History Museum

Thursday, February 20th saw the release of the latest in the Lab’s on-going video series Made in SL. Subtitled History in SL, it could also fit into the category of Learning In SL, given its subject,the  presents a lesson in both history and education: the Virtual Black History Museum, which has re-opened for 2020’s Black History Month is the United States.

Founded and curated by AbriannaOceanside, the museum traces the often uncomfortable history of African Americans from the days of slavery through to modern times, as well as offering featured exhibitions on African American history and the civil rights movement, with the February and March feature focusing on the Unsung Female Heroes Of Black History – women who may not be as famous as Rosa Parks, but who have nevertheless played important roles in the shaping of African American history in the United States.

Abrianna Oceanside

The museum is split between two min buildings. The first, located alongside the landing point, has within the foyer area a complete reproduction of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s iconic “I Have A Dream” speech, delivered on August 28th, 1968, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC.

Through a clearly arrowed door facing the panels bearing Dr. King’s speech, visitors are invited to walk through African American history in America, from 1619 through to the 1960s.

It has been argued that the history of African slavery in America actually dates back almost a hundred years further, to the colony of San Miguel de Gualdape (which also saw the first documented slave rebellion). However, 1619 is not an unreasonable place to start a museum like that, as it was then that a ship privateered by British seamen arrived in Jamestown, Virginia, carrying some 20 African slaves to what might be regarded as the nascent United States as we know it today. Which is not to say Abrianna is in any way ignoring any earlier history of African American slavery in continental America, as I’ll come back to in a moment.

From this point, the museum, through a series of information boards, offers a chronological flow that commences on the ground floor and progress to the upper. This charts the unfolding history of slavery and subsequent matter of segregation, the Jim Crow laws, and the civil rights movement.

The boards can make uncomfortable reading for some, but they do chart a period of American history that forms an important part of the country’s heritage. Currently, they stop at 1965 and the assassination of Malcolm X, and the Watts riots that took place later that same year; but there is a reason for this, which also links back to the use of 1619 for the start of the exhibit, as Abrianna shared with me, as well as revealing some of the future direction for the museum.

At the time I originally set up the museum [2017] I intended to have a build that went into depth as far as what led us to 1619. But a sudden change in real world priorities meant I never had the time for the projects that I now do.

My long-term vision has always been to dig deeper into the “how”; not just a series of events, especially now that I have a more giving volume of space to work within, but also the focus. I want to include an exhibit on modern day issues, like police brutality/high profile cases, the prison system, institutionalised racism in general; it’s a wide topic that would be great for discussion.

– Abrianna, discussing the Virtual Black History Museum and its future

The Virtual Black History Museum

Meanwhile, the second exhibition hall is currently home to the Unsung Female Heroes Of Black History, set to run through to the end of March as noted above. Within it are a series of information boards focusing on nine women noted for their roles in civil rights, LGBTQ issues and as role-models for African American women. These provide an photo of the subject, and a brief outline of her life and work, and are in the process of being updated to direct visitors to a web biography of each woman when touched.

That exhibitions in this building will change around every two months means that visitors to VBHM have an incentive to make return trips to the museum and witness future exhibitions. In this, it forms a part of much wider plans that Abrianna has for public engagement.

I’d love to engage people interactively as well. One example of this would be to stage iconic or significant scenes from the civil rights era that allows visitors to become a witness or participant in them; the Freedom Riders, some of the sit-ins, and Selma.

– Abrianna, discussing the Virtual Black History Museum and its future

The Unsung Female Heroes of Black History

Some of this work will be dependent on Abrianna receiving support – and she is always willing to hear from anyone willing to offer practical assistance; she can be contacted via note card or through the Virtual Black History Museum’s Facebook page. Suitable events are also welcomed at the museum – with the potential for music and arts events already in the planning stages, with Abrianna already looking towards educational opportunities as well – school visits, and similar. So again, those who would be interested in holding a related event at the museum, or who would like to help Abrianna in providing space at the museum as an events venue, should drop her a line.

At a minute and forty seconds, the Made in SL video forms an excellent introduction to the museum, and as excellently narrated by Abrianna, as well as being superbly framed by the use of the famous instrumental version of Billy Taylor’s I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free, adopted as the unofficial anthem of the US Civil Rights Movement, with a version with lyrics recorded by Nina Simone. Once seen, a visit to the museum is highly recommended.

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