Today’s ride took me down the hill for waffles and bacon with my grading and then down and over to Little Italy for a trip to the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture (can y’all put in a bike rack, please?) to check out their new exhibit on art inspired by Harriet Tubman. Tubman was from Maryland, and it was in Maryland that she was held in slavery, beaten, abused, but like it does with Frederick Douglass, Maryland claims her proudly, as if the state had the right to brag about her 150 years on after what they’ve done, as if honor is the same as reparations. But this exhibit wasn’t about that. This was about her influence on contemporary art, two walls of it, anyway, and it was so good. The art was about the feel of swamps where freedom’s on the other side, coded messages pointing the right way, the creation of fictional histories about events for which there is necessarily no record, the permanent refusal to be returned to slavery, and histories covered in stains. It was just two walls, but it was absolutely worth the trip. I floated around the museum for another hour or so, revisiting exhibits I’ve seen several times before. The movie about school desegregation ends with the happy notion that the past generation took care of all that ugly segregation business with Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, so now we don’t have to work through racism in schools. Sometimes the uplift narrative of this place goes a little bit too far and you’ve got the check into the “Bearing Witness” display to be reminded of the history and present of lynching, and the part where so many black bodies are being forced into cages again and still. I left in a thoughtful mood and headed back up the hill to home, through the mixed income public housing that replaced the old towers here and through the complex of homeless services and churches and prisons and strip clubs between the Lewis and the protected bike lane at Fallsway, just a zippy mile and a half away.
Loved this post, and share much of the sentiment. I’ll let you know so we can celebrate if Memphis, Jackson, and the rest of the Delta ever drop their legal battling and actually desegregate their schools … some day.
The Lewis Museum is wonderful.