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Museums highlight Black History Month

Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution

Thomas Jefferson, who owned about 600 slaves, wrote his rough draft of the Declaration of Independence on this mahogany lap desk.

Throughout February, museums, cities and cultural venues around the country are marking Black History Month with a variety of temporary exhibitions and special events.

In Washington, D.C., the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture is presenting "Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty" at the National Museum of American History through Oct. 14.

The exhibit includes artifacts excavated at Monticello and objects from the Smithsonian’s collection, including a set of slave shackles and the lap desk Jefferson used to write the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. “At the time he was espousing the opinion that all men are created equal, Jefferson owned approximately 150 slaves,” said James Gordon, spokesman for the National Museum of African American History and Culture. “During his lifetime, Jefferson owned about 600 slaves so, in fact, in his eyes all men weren’t equal.” 

Philadelphia is spotlighting its African-American legacy this month with exhibits, plays, storytelling events, music and more. Included in the line-up is an exhibit at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts featuring more than 100 paintings by Henry Ossawa Tanner, who lived in Philadelphia after the Civil War and became the first prominent African-American painter to gain international acclaim. (The exhibit runs through April 15.) Visitors may also download a free app for a tour showcasing 21 of Philadelphia’s most iconic African American-themed murals. The tour follows a trolley route through Philadelphia's culturally diverse neighborhoods.  

Through Aug. 20, the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., is hosting “For All the World To See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights,” which features images relating to the struggle for racial justice during the period of the modern civil rights movement. 

The National WWII Museum in New Orleans is paying tribute to the more than 1.2 million African Americans who served with a month-long schedule of programming and an exhibit honoring the Tuskegee Airmen and the “Red Ball Express” drivers.  

And in San Francisco, the Museum of the African Diaspora is hosting an exhibit titled “Collected: Stories of Acquisition and Reclamation,” which includes more than 100 objects that help tell stories about the contributions of people of African descent to American history and culture (through March 4.)

For more events and exhibits around the country marking Black History Month, see http://www.africanamericanhistorymonth.gov/.

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