African-American History Museum
Perry Mason wouldn't stand for it. Neither would Johnny Cochran, but his objection would be more stylish. "If it's hearsay, it cannot sway," he'd tell the judge. And the jury would have to disregard the testimony. Not as easy a trick when it comes to history. We of the present are at the mercy of the integrity of storytellers past. Napoleon once said, "History is a set of lies agreed upon." This is a story of rectifying such lies. However, not ones of commission but of omission. Namely the rich past of African-Americans.
"When I was a kid, my brothers and I sold black newspapers like the Chicago Defender, Pittsburgh Courier and the Afro Bee from Baltimore," says Hana L. Stith. "I also corresponded with a west African army general. Even then I was proud of my native land." Pride she now shares with all of Fort Wayne. Stith is the chairperson and one of the driving forces behind the African-American History Museum at 436 E. Douglas St. in Fort Wayne.
It wasn't even an idea at first. Although Stith and Dr. Miles Edwards were deeply involved in teaching black history at the McCulloch School, building a shrine to that history wasn't part of the plan. Until it came time to prepare for the Fort Wayne bicentennial celebration and there were no black people on the planning committee. Stith and Edwards changed that. Which was the first puff of the wind of change about to blow through. "We found out that they only had four pictures of sizable importance about black people," says Stith. "They had no history. Only a few pictures that looked like they were taken in slum areas and stuff like that. Nothing of substance. Nothing of any contributions that black people had made to the city of Fort Wayne at all. I mean nothing."
What started as "Stop" had turned to "Play." Then in 1998 it became "Fast Forward." A group of black people had been meeting since 1997 to discuss starting a historical society. Discussion only. Until a man named Jim Blanks was tired of the bait cutting and wanted to go fishing. "He had preserved a lot of artifacts with his own money," says Stith. "So he said,'We just keep meeting and meeting and if we're not going to organize, I'd like to know. But if we are going to organize, I want to do it right now.' So we organized that day, Sunday, May 17, 1998." Then Stith's voice cracks, "And he died that Thursday." An ending which led to a beginning. In May of 1999 Stith got the Ministerial Alliance to donate a house, rent free, for 10 years. She also got people to donate their time, their artifacts and, most importantly, their passion. And the idea suddenly got wings. "I believe God wants this place to be because he has really made a way for it to be," says Stith. "And it's all happened so very quickly. This whole thing has really been blessed." As much by strangers as by divine approval. From the woman who showed up one day, took all the pictures off the walls, then returned with them framed, to the man who volunteered to do some yard work, then left, only to return with his friends. Individual hands which have unselfishly helped mold this work in progress. Which led to grand opening day, February 1, 2000.
The history, which is in the school books, is your gateway to the past. It greets you with a whisper, "Coming to America." But the chained black feet on the floor and the chained hands hanging from the ceiling scream slavery. So do the representations of the ships which first brought Africans, stacked as cargo, to this country. A heritage once stripped but now preserved in another room. Authentic artifacts from Africa which honor both modern and ancient traditions. "We stress west Africa," says Stith, "because basically that's where blacks came from to begin with. We ask for west coast artifacts so we can say these are our roots right here. Africa is the motherland for all black people, but our people came from west Africa.
It's an impressive visual tribute, but incomplete without the stories to go along, stories told by Stith's brother Dan Jones on his tours. Like in the Inventors Room, where pencil sketches by a 79-year-old white woman named Darlene Kurtz honor pioneers in science. There's Charles Drew, who invented the blood bank but, in a cruel twist of irony, died of injuries suffered in a car accident when he was denied blood because he was black. George Washington Carver is there, as is chemist Percy Julian and cosmetics creator Madame C.J. Walker. All on pedestals. All with wonderful stories to tell. There's the William Warfield Room, dedicated to the first black man to live on Douglas Street ä right next to where the museum now stands. Fifteen years of his personal diaries chronicle his life in Fort Wayne. There are also stories about black cowboys -- how the Clint Eastwood character in the western Hang 'Em High was really a black man.
This is only a small portion of the museum. The entire upstairs is being readied for debut in June of this year. There will be rooms dedicated to local history, sports, music, entertainment and the Urban League. A lot of sweat already spent with much more to go. As the philosopher Plato wrote, "What is honored in a country will be cultivated there." Stith agrees. "I think anybody, in order to appreciate the present, they need to know their past. They had nothing on display about black people at the Allen County Historical Museum. They would say,'Why don't black people come to the museum?' or 'Why don't black children like to go to the museum?' It was because they couldn't relate to it. They saw nobody that looked like them. It was an altogether different world. So we figured that when you can relate to a thing and see people who look just like you and there's honor being paid to them and their contributions are being remembered, then you need that."
So far, more than 300 people of all races have come through the museum, and they're still booking tours. With the emphasis on the kids. "We feel it's very important for our children to be proud of their ancestors," says Stith, "to know where they came from, so they can say this has been my struggle, and I really have improved my lot in life."
What was once hardship is now a source of strength and fortitude. Another telling of history which will open up a whole new world of discovery to generations which have been kept in the dark. "This is why this building is here," says Stith, "because we are going to really and truly hold on to our contributions for motivation, for greater appreciation and greater understanding among people and to preserve our culture and our heritage which we should be very proud as black people. I'm just tickled by what we've been able to accomplish in a very short time. It's like your wildest dream come true."
A dream which may have taken a very long time to realize, but in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, "The time is always right to do what is right."
by Larry Ell
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Art on Broadway — Tours of 5 downtown venues featuring art from Alexandra Hall, Julie Wall, Peter Lupkin, Daniel Dienelt, Knotodday, Kay Gregg, Terry Ratliff and St. Monci, 5 p.m. Saturday, March 25, Broadway Street, Fort Wayne, free, 417-5925
Beer, Bourbon, Bacon Festival — Unlimited beer sampling from national and regional craft breweries, fine bourbon sampling and bacon inspired treats, 6-9 p.m. Saturday, March 25 (5-9 p.m. VIP), Marquis and Three Rivers Ballrooms, Hotel Fort Wayne, Fort Wayne, $35-$75, 484-0411
An Evening with Author Tom Frank — Author of What’s the Matter with Kansas talks about his new book; hors d’oeuvres, lecture and book signing included in admission, 6 p.m. Saturday, March 25, CS3 Hideaway, Fort Wayne, $15 plus donation, 602-1008
Puttin’ on the Ritz —Active 20-30 club fundraiser with live music from Chris Worth and Company, gourmet edibles, wine and beer, live and silent auctions; black tie optional, 7 p.m. Saturday, March 25, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, Fort Wayne, $50-$90, 450-2844
Shipshewana on the Road — Food, craft and primitives show and sale, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, March 25 and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, March 26, Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, Fort Wayne, $4, 483-1111
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Big Dick and the Penetrators — Classic rock at Navy Club, Ship 245, New Haven, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 493-4044
Brat Pack — Rat Pack/variety at Nick's Martini & Wine Bar, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., no cover, 482-6425
Cougar Hunter — 80s glam rock at Vinnie's Bar, Decatur, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $5, 729-2225
Ellsworth Sharp — Neofolk at Friendly Fox, Fort Wayne, 6:30-8:30 p.m., no cover, 745-3369
FBC Band w/Sheba — Variety/Music and Memories benefit at C2G Music Hall, Fort Wayne , 8 p.m., $7-$15, 426-6434
Fireball Matinee — Rock at Hideaway Lounge, Bluffton, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 824-0455
Fleshwounds — Rock at Hamilton House, Hamilton, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 488-3344
Fort Wayne Funk Orchestra — Funk at Dupont Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m., cover, 483-1311
Fu5ion — Variety at Mitchell's Sports Bar & Neighborhood Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $3, (260) 387-5063
The Illegals — Rock at O'Sullivan's Italian Irish Pub, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 422-5896
Joe Stabelli — Jazz at Don Hall's Gas House, Fort Wayne, 5:45-9 p.m., no cover, 426-3411
John Curran & Renegade — Country at Alley Sports Bar, Pro Bowl West, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 483-4421
Johnny Freakin' Xcitor — Country rock at Beamer's Sports Grill, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m., no cover, 625-1002
Kat Bowser — Variety at Don Hall's Guesthouse, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 489-2524
The Orange Opera w/Mickyle James — Rock at Brass Rail, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., $5, 267-5303
Prime Suspects — Variety at American Legion Post 499, Fort Wayne, 8-11 p.m., no cover, 483-1368
Quincy and the Q-Tet feat. Phil Potts — Rock/variety at Downtown Eatery & Spirits, Warsaw, 10 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, (574) 267-6000
Second Nature — Pop at Crazy Pinz, Fort Wayne, 8-11 p.m., no cover, 490-2695
Shannon Persinger Quartet — Jazz/variety at Club Soda, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 426-3442
Todd Harrold & Nick Bobay Duo — R&B/blues/variety at American Legion Post 148, Fort Wayne, 7 p.m., no cover, 423-4751
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Ambitious Blondes Karaoke — Variety at Office Tavern, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 478-5827
Beat Karaoke & DJ — Variety at American Legion Post 296, Fort Wayne, 8 p.m. , no cover, 456-2988
Bucca Karaoke w/Bucca — Variety at Tower Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-6310
Classic City Karaoke w/Bryan Lee — Karaoke at Corner Pocket Tavern, Fremont, 10 p.m., no cover, 495-9255
Classic City Karaoke w/Tobin — Karaoke at Toad's Tavern, Monroeville, 10 p.m., no cover, 623-6226
DJ Shawn — Karaoke/variety at Club Paradise, Angola, 10 p.m., no cover, 833-7082
Fort Wayne Karaoke — Karaoke at Latch String Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10:30 p.m., no cover, 483-5526
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Brian — Variety at AJ's Bar and Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., , 434-1980
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Josh — Variety at Arena Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 557-1563
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/TJ — Variety at Chevvy's, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-4748
House DJ — Variety at Early Bird's Ultra Lounge, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., cover, 483-1979
House DJ — Variety at Flashback on the Landing, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., cover, 422-5292
Karaoke — Variety at Crooner's Karaoke Bar, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-3 a.m., no cover, 486-1979
Live DJ — Variety at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
Shooting Star Prod. w/Barbie — Variety at Uncle Lou's Steel Mill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-5787
Shooting Star Prod. w/Stu — Variety at Pike's Pub, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 478-6200
Sidecar Gary's Karaoke & DJ — Karaoke at Kville Pub, Kendallville, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 348-1677
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The Children’s Hour — Lillian Hellman’s seminal drama about bigotry perpetuated against the LGBT community and how easily a lie can spread, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 25, First Presbyterian Theater, Fort Wayne, $12-$20, 426-7421 ext. 121
Getting Sara Married — Comedy about an unmarried lawyer in need of a husband (according to her aunt), 7 p.m. dinner, 8 p.m. curtain, Saturday, March 25, Arena Dinner Theatre, Fort Wayne, $40 (includes dinner & show), 424-5622
One Foot in the Gravy — Howard Kingkade’s comedy and winner of Fort Wayne Civic Theatre’s Northeast Indiana Playwright Festival, 8 p.m. Saturday, March 25; 2 p.m. Sunday, March 26, Arts United Center, Fort Wayne, $10-$20, 422-4226
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22nd Annual Valentine’s Invitational — Works from local and national artists, Tuesday-Saturday and by appointment thru March 31, Castle Gallery Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 426-6568
2017 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards — Award-winning works from northern Indiana and northwest Ohio middle and high school students, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Afros: A Celebration of African Hair by Michael July — Contemporary photography exhibit by Brooklyn author/photographer, daily thru April 14, D’Agostino Art Gallery, Indiana Tech, Fort Wayne, 399-8626
An Artful Spring — Works by Gwen Gutwein, Patricia Weiss, Austin Cartwright and more, Tuesday-Saturday thru March 31, Crestwoods Frame Shop & Gallery, Roanoke, 672-2080
Decatur Sculpture Tour — 31 original sculptures and 15 permanent exhibits on display, walking tour maps available, thru April 1, Decatur, free, 724-2605
Echolilia — Works from Timothy Archibald and his autistic son, Eli, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Entropy — Daniel Swartz solo exhibition explores relationship between death and mourning through combinations of mythology, mathematics, multi-dimensional physics and pop culture, Monday-Saturday thru April 1, Jennifer Ford Art, Fort Wayne, 740-1309
Diane Allen Groenert — Exhibition of local artist’s Downtown Series and new works, Monday-Saturday thru June 24, West Central Microcreamery & Cafe, Fort Wayne, 415-9293
Expressions of Existence — An exhibition of works by artists through history, including Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Francisco Goya and others whose works have been influenced by disabilities, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Fort Wayne Artist Guild Exhibitions — Works by Alice Siefert at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Jennifer Caudel at Allen County Retinal Surgeons, Anita Trick, Citizens Square (2nd and 3rd floors), Darlene Selzer Miller at The Einhaus Group for Women’s Health, Patricia Weiss at Heritage of Fort Wayne, Emily Jane Butler at Ophthalmology Consultants (Southwest), Linda Binek at Ophthalmology Consultants (North), Carolyn Stachera at Rehabilitation Hospital of Fort Wayne, John Kelty at ResCare Inc. Adult Day Service, Wiletta Blevins at Town House Retirement, Karen Bixler at Visiting Nurse Hospice and Barb Yoder and Karen Harvey at Will Jewelers, thru April 30, fortwayneartistguild.org.
Fort Wayne Photographers Club — Exhibition featuring local photographers, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 30, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Garden Party — Garden-themed works in a variety of mediums from over 30 local artists, Monday-Saturday thru March 31, Orchard Gallery of Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 436-0927
Generations: A View of Who Was Who — Works by Romare Bearden, Kara Walker, Alma Thomas, Jacob Lawrence and other African-American artists, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Glass: A Medium in Art and Automobiles — Dale Chihuly blown glass and fiberglass auto, daily thru Sept. 8, Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, Auburn, $7.50-$12.50, 925-1444
A Mary Poppins Garden Party — Child-oriented garden exhibit, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 1, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Moments in Time: Reflecting on the Human Spirit — Elizabeth Opalenik photographs from her recent Amish series A Journey Home and her Reflecting on the Edge exhibition, daily thru March 26, Visual Arts Gallery, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
Outdoor Sculpture Invitational — Fifteen outdoor sculptures from regional artists, daily thru April 30, School of Creative Arts campus, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
RAW. Untamed. Unashamed. Visions of Freedom. — Abstract romanticist works in acrylics and epoxy from Kristy Jahn, Fridays and Saturday-Thursday by appointment thru March 25, The Gallery at Pranayoga, Fort Wayne, 423-9642
Sharon — An exhibition of Leon Borensztein photographs chronicling the struggles he faced raising his severely disabled daughter, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Wabash County Schools Exhibition — Works by high school art students, daily thru April 16, Clark Gallery, Honeywell Center, Wabash, 563-1102