A mobile museum featuring a collection of over 7,000 artifacts related to Black history and culture will visit The Dalles-Wasco County Public Library on Tuesday, Jan. 8, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The Black History 101 Mobile Museum’s founder, Khalid el-Hakim, will give a talk from 12 to 1 p.m. Admission is free.
As a social studies teacher at Detroit’s Lions Academy, a public middle school, el-Hakim realized that the available textbooks often glossed over or inadequately explained Black history and culture. In response, he began scouring second-hand shops, junkyards, and other sources for original artifacts that he could use to illustrate concepts like the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Jim Crow, slavery, and institutionalized racism to his students. el-Hakim calls himself “the Black version of the show American Pickers.”
Starting in the early 1990s, el-Hakim continued growing his collection for use as a classroom aide, amassing around 500 pieces. In 1995, after attending the Million Man March in Washington, D.C., el-Hakim was inspired to do something that would support awareness and social change in the community. He also decided he needed a larger and more permanent way to make the collection accessible beyond just his own students.
The result is the Black History 101 Mobile Museum, a 39-foot trailer that houses el-Hakim’s collection, representing a cross-section of what el-Hakim calls “the Black experience in America.”
The museum showcases artifacts—both historical and contemporary—that illustrate the history and progression of Black culture. Pieces range from those connected to slavery, Jim Crow, and civil rights, to the emergence and flourishing of Black culture in movements from the Harlem Renaissance to modern-day hip-hop.
The museum is laid out in table-top displays, with objects grouped together to illustrate a common theme. Unlike books or commentary about a historical subject, a collection such as the one el-Hakim has curated allows visitors to have a visceral experience of history and culture. Grouping objects thematically allows the artifacts to be contextualized.
As el-Hakim said “I took it to a different level [to show] what Booker T. Washington or W.E.B. Dubois or other individuals were doing during the Jim Crow era. It just made more of a powerful impact for me to see Aunt Jemima imagery next to somebody like [poet and playwright] Paul Laurence Dunbar, and what he was doing at the time.”
Current themes include women, hip-hop, Jim Crow, civil rights and Black Power, music, leadership, sports, and science and technology. Since 2018 is the 50th anniversary of his assassination, materials are included that relate to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and to the 1968 Olympics, where athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos each raised a fist in a silent salute to civil rights.
el-Hakim stopped teaching social studies in 2011 to devote himself to the museum full time. He is also creating a documentary film about the museum itself, called ArtifaXual, as part of his dissertation research as a Ph.D. student at the University of Illinois.
Light refreshments will be served, and the event, which is sponsored by Columbia Gorge Community College, will be held in the Library’s Community Room.