Traveling museum will be at Livingstone College today
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 19, 2014
In the Akan language in the West African country of Ghana, the word Sankofa means to reach back and understand your history.
Angela W. Jennings of Denmark, S.C., wants nothing more than for all Americans — particularly those of African descent — to do just that.
So in 1995 Jennings put her show on the road, literally, and began traveling the country with a presentation of African artifacts she calls Sankofa African-American Museum on Wheels. Her exhibit, which has between 3,000 and 4,000 pieces, will be on display from noon to 6 p.m. today at the Events and Hospitality Center at Livingstone College.
The public is invited. Admission is free.
“I’ve been collecting most of my life, starting when I was about 16,” said Jennings. “My paternal grandmother Louise Jennings was a collector.”
Even so, Jennings said she wasn’t moved to take her show on the road until after her nephew, at the time a straight-A student in high school, failed a black history exam geared toward fifth or sixth graders.
“I figured if a straight-A high school student failed this test on black history, then his friends that weren’t straight-A students probably didn’t know black history either,” Jennings said. “The public schools weren’t teaching it and still aren’t.”
So in February that year, Jennings started traveling the country with her show, which includes the exhibits on display and about 30 minutes during which time she talks about the artifacts she’s collected over the years and also performs a dramatic presentation on education.
Already this month Jennings has been to Winston-Salem State University, Queens University of Charlotte, The University of Memphis, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, the University of North Georgia and Prince George’s Community College. Since 1995, Jennings has taken her exhibit to more than 2,000 colleges and universities. She goes to festivals and churches but prefers higher education institutions. After she leaves Livingstone, she’s headed to Fayetteville State University.
“My goal is for people to know about the contributions African-Americans have made to society,” Jennings said. “So many people have no clue what we have contributed, just simply in inventions alone. A lot of people will discuss African-American history only in February, but black history is 365 days a year and we’ve got to get out of that mindset.”
Black history isn’t discussed nearly as much as it should be in the United States, Jennings said. Even worse, when it is discussed the same names are usually mentioned, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks. King and Parks certainly deserve their due place in history, but there are many other African-Americans who have made significant contributions to America who are all but forgotten, Jennings said.
“All these kids know is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and they’ve reduced him to a highway, a boulevard or a street,” Jennings said, referring to the fact that many cities across the country have streets named after the slain civil rights leader. “I was at a college one day and a female student didn’t know who invented peanut butter.”
Jennings’ impassioned quest to uncover as much as she could about black history has taken her to West Africa, Europe, The Virgin Islands and throughout the United States. Her exhibit shows the good, the bad and the ugly of black history, beginning with Africa and ending with President Barack Obama.
To complement her artifacts, Jennings orally discusses famous African-Americans like Ida B. Wells, an African-American journalist, editor and suffragist who lived from 1862 to 1931, and of course, King. She also talks about The Negro Baseball League, which included such greats as Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson and Jackie Robinson, and the Tuskegee Airmen.
“It takes a couple of hours to really get the full scope of my exhibit,” Jennings said. “It’s a ‘must-see’ that ignites the soul.”
Dr. Orlando Lewis, vice president of student affairs at Livingstone College, said he learned about the traveling museum after someone from Jennings’ camp contacted Alfonso Duncan, director of student activities.
“They wanted to know if they could bring the Sankofa African-American Museum on Wheels to our students, and we got the ball rolling because we believe it’s an excellent opportunity for our students to learn about our history in ways they weren’t taught in school,” Lewis said. “I hope our students and the public will gain a better understanding and a deeper appreciation of black history from Jennings’ exhibit.”