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Monday, January 30, 2023

Getting to the Roots

Louisville museum showcases overlooked past.

Less than six months after opening in a former whiskey warehouse in Downtown Louisville, Kentucky, the Roots 101 African American Museum was voted one of the nation’s 10 best new attractions of 2021 by USA Today readers.

More than 10,000 people have visited the museum, says Lamont Collins, its founder and CEO. It’s also a stop on the University of Evansville’s six-city civil rights history bus tour, Journey to Justice, in June 2023.

Tours of the more than 7,500 items contrast 17th-century brass and bronze statues from West Africa’s Kingdom of Benin with bruising iron shackles and chains that enslaved Africans wore when shipped to American plantations. Visitors observe dehumanizing caricatures of Black Americans popularized on posters, products, and novelty items after the Civil War and explore centuries-spanning struggles to win equal rights and respect. Further displays celebrate African Americans’ achievements in music, sports, business, and politics, and recent efforts to build a better future.

The museum’s most popular exhibition may be “Big Momma’s House,” a typical living room of African American matriarchs across the country, Collins says. Its walls of personal family achievements — mounted newspaper clippings, diplomas, and framed family photographs — document lives long ignored by history books and museums.

“‘Big Momma’ told our story,” Collins says.

PAST AND PRESENT roots-101.org

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