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Sunday, September 04, 2016

It was waiting at my desk on Thursday, the beautiful invitation to the Preview of the great National African American Museum on the Capitol Mall ... .

This photo was taken in June by Martha Lee as we stood outside the construction site of the still incomplete Museum.  It was thrilling to know that it would be open in a few short months, but at that time I had no idea that I would be invited to the festivities, though I was aware that our staff was working on that possibility.  Everyone knew that I was dying to attend this opening.

Finally, a few weeks after returning home from the WWII Museum's annual Gala in New Orleans, I learned --not only that Secretary Jewel would be bringing along the replacement coin from the White House to the Port Chicago Day of Remembrance -- but that she would see that the invitation happened, and it has.  Not only will I be able to attend the opening as her guest, but that I will have ten days in Washington to participate in a panel before the Congressional Black Caucus Conference with former National Park Service Director Bob Stanton, and a signature ranger from the East Coast,  Ranger Cassius Cash.  I will be involved in activities yet unnamed, but listed on a growing itinerary that no one is allowing me to see lest I'm overtaken by the vapors!

I will present to the museum a photograph of the convent of the nation's first all-black religious Order; the Holy Family Sisters.  The convent was built by my grandfather, Louis Charbonnet, out on Gentilly near the campus of Dillard University in New Orleans.  In June I saw among the temporary exhibits, one on that historic Order of Nuns, and vowed that I would locate that fading photograph and contribute it to the Museum to take its place among those artifacts.  I'll now get to do that.

I will not only attend the preview on September 17th along with the Collection Donors Preview & Reception, but will be attending the grand opening of the Museum on September 24th as well.  And that means that this 'lil ole lady ranger will be rubbing shoulders with the likes of Laura Bush, Oprah Winfrey, Quincy Jones, Willie Brown, General Colin Powell, etc., and we may all be wondering just how on earth she ever got on the A-List!



Celebrating the National Park Service Centennial with a Rosie Rally ... .

... which always leaves me with a feeling of being underwhelmed since I still lack the sense of relationship to the concept.  Rosie, for me, remains a white woman's story, with little relevance to my life.  I know.  It's silly.  I do spend almost  my entire life, currently, in the context of that history, right?  But try as I may -- those memories of exclusion are with me still after all these years.  I chose to wear my regular uniform on this day and to not participate except from afar as an observer.

I truly do not harbor any resentment, nor do I envy the women who remember that period of WWII with feelings of triumph over a social system that was pretty disrespectful of women in general.  It is a great feminist issue, and I firmly believe that today's women should use whatever they need to in order to bring light upon the issue.  I just isn't my issue, and I'm alright with that.

But there was a moment of amusement when I first saw those amazing women who'd gathered in the Craneway Pavilion of the old Ford Assembly Plant in the attempt to reclaim the Guinness Record for having the most women dressed as Rosie gathered in one place -- a friendly competition entered into with the women of the WWII defense plant in Dearborn, Michigan.  We broke the record with over 2000 people, a number that included several who traveled from Michigan to join with us in the attempt!

As I looked on that scene in the Craneway it was all I could do to not make note of the fact that -- given the context of my life and culture -- they resembled Aunt Jemima of pancake fame more than anything else!  Did they know that?  And in the script running through my momentarily demented mind, I was creating my own story where I would call in the NAACP legal team to make claim that these folks were expropriating another black symbol -- our icon -- and without our consent!  (... and, yes, I DO understand that this is not a legitimate black symbol, but simply a questionable logo created by the advertising industry.)

I backed out of the Craneway giggling to myself, as my fantasy went on to envision slave women in the cotton fields with their heads wrapped in red and white polka-dot bandanas added to by the descendants of slaveowners adopting this now iconic symbol without realizing what they were perpetuating, and now being joined by African American women in this Guinness competition!    And even if they knew, would it have mattered?  So much for traditions in these days of blending cultures.

After using the image to tease, I found myself going with the flow after a time.  It was a usual day for me, and I silently observed that the National Park Service only has 5 years on me, and that if I was feeling underwhelmed, it was probably to centennials not being such a big deal to one of my age.  Maybe I'll feel it more deeply when I get to Washington on September 15, where it is so much easier to relate to history; our collective narrative, which is so very powerful.

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