A new take on black history at the California Science Center





My visit to the California Science Center's black history exhibit this week was intended as rainy day relief; an emotional lift and respite for me from those relentless images of Haitian grief....

This exhibit -- "American I AM: The African American Imprint" -- leaves no doubt about its vision: to "celebrate nearly 500 years of African American contributions to the U.S."...

The exhibit, created by broadcaster Tavis Smiley, is on its third stop in a 10-city, four-year tour. It opened in Exposition Park in October and runs through April. On Monday, the day I visited, more than 700 people bought tickets to see it.

It has gotten off to a slow start in Los Angeles, where the black population is not as concentrated or politically active as the cities of its previous stops, Philadelphia and Atlanta.

"The challenge here is we crave entertainment . . . but we have a problem appreciating culture," Smiley said.

But the upside of Los Angeles, he told me, is the diversity it offers. "L.A. is truly a microcosm of the world. So there's no better place to introduce Americans to each other."...

The journey begins with an explanation of slavery -- complete with artifacts like a slave ship manifest and ancient shackles and chains....

How does a young girl reconcile the promise of the 1776 Declaration of Independence, on exhibit in one glass case, with the receipt in another from the 1776 sale of slaves, $100 for a Negro woman and her child? I understand those parents who -- like me -- try to tie their children to our history, even though we cannot know what images they will remember in this sweep from slavery to the presidency....


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