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Pictures from past shape future

Many pieces from Bremerton collector RooseveltSmith’s black Americana will be on display at the Black Historical Society Museum on Park Avenue during the month to educate the public on the evolution of depictions of African-Americans from the late 1800s to the present. - Photo by Charles Melton
Many pieces from Bremerton collector RooseveltSmith’s black Americana will be on display at the Black Historical Society Museum on Park Avenue during the month to educate the public on the evolution of depictions of African-Americans from the late 1800s to the present.
— image credit: Photo by Charles Melton

By CHARLES MELTON

Editor

Images from the past could help shape the future as Bremerton collector Roosevelt Smith puts a large part of his collection on display at the Black Historical Society Museum, beginning Feb. 14.

Depictions of Sambos, Aunt Jemima and Aunt Jemima look-alikes join more positive contemporary images of African-Americans including Jesse Jackson, Ella Fitzgerald and the like as Smith’s exhibit will take viewers on an at times heartbreaking and at others uplifting journey through how societal views have changed since the late 1800s. The exhibit will be open to the public on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. until Mar. 1.

After slavery was abolished and the Reconstruction Era took hold, blacks enjoyed a period of freedom and respect in society, but that didn’t mean they were portrayed any differently than they were during slavery, Smith said.

“Back in the 1800s depictions of African-American women had very big lips and dressed as maids,” he said.

That characterization gained even greater hold as the image of Aunt Jemima became popular throughout the nation, he said.

“Aunt Jemima was actually Dorothy Green, who was hired a smart businessman to prepare pancakes,” he said.

Green travelled the country selling pancakes and she did extremely well, he said.

In the early 1900s blacks were dealt a tremendous blow as the movie, “Birth of a Nation” reinforced the unfounded fear of black men wanting to violate white women in a scene which showed a white female being chased by a black male until she reached the edge of a cliff and had to decide whether she wanted to be violated or plummet to her death, Smith said. The movie was based on the book, “The Clansman” by Thomas F. Dixon, Jr., which is part of a historical romance trilogy about the Ku Klux Klan.

“That led to many white men going into black neighborhoods and lynching black men,” Smith said. “That depiction was carried throughout Hollywood.”

However, through the course of time that perception has changed, but it’s still important to remember the past and share it with the future generations, he said.

“These things are part of our history, and I believe they can have a positive impact,” he said.

In Bremerton, there are many different organizations who are doing great things for African-Americans and the Bremerton School District is doing an outstanding job with its diversity efforts, he said.

“The people in Bremerton are great, and I see a lot of progress,” Smith said.

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