Tulsa History Included in Smithsonian Museum
By EMILY RAMSEY
PRESERVING THE PAST: Ian Swart, Tulsa Historical Society and Museum archivist and curator of collections, holds a seven-foot panoramic photograph that was taken the day after the Tulsa Race Riot. The panorama is part of a permanent display at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
EMILY RAMSEY for GTR Newspapers
As curators collected items from across the country to include in the 400,000-square-foot Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., which opened Sept. 24, the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum received a special opportunity to share items and photographs from Tulsa’s past.
The Tulsa Historical Society and Museum supplied much of the photographs and items for the Smithsonian’s Tulsa Race Riot exhibit, says Archivist and Curator of Collections Ian Swart. A focal point of the exhibit is a seven-foot panoramic photograph that wraps around three walls of the exhibit room. The photo was taken the day after the riot, looking west with downtown Tulsa and the Greenwood District to the south and Reservoir Hill to the north.
“You can see people still sifting through the rubble,” says Swart.
Because the historical society did not have equipment large enough to scan the panorama, the Smithsonian paid for a truck to transport the panorama to D.C. in order to scan it and then drive it back to Tulsa, Swart says.
In addition to photos provided by the historical society to the museum – “Most of the photos in the exhibit came from us,” says Swart – other items include a chair that came from a north Tulsa church and items that belonged to B.C. Franklin, who is the father of John Hope Franklin and the grandfather of John W. Franklin who works for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
“B.C. was an attorney in Tulsa who provided aid to many victims after the riot,” says Swart.
Before the museum opened, Swart attended a museum preview and reception.
“The coolest thing was touring the galleries with people who had personal connections to the artifacts. To see their reactions was moving,” Swart says.
“I saw entire families standing around an exhibit, telling stories to their families. It appeared as if for the first time that their stories were being told.”
For Swart, whose family history is intertwined with the slave trade, the museum hit particularly close to home: “I know that a lot of my ancestors were slave owners. I have to reconcile myself to that.”
The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture includes items belonging to Harriet Tubman, including a lace shawl and hymnal, a Jim Crow railroad car, an original slave cabin and a statue of Thomas Jefferson that illustrates his ties to slavery.
The building was constructed with four floors underground and five above ground.
“The way they built the structure was very intentional,” says Swart.
The lowest underground floor begins the history gallery of slavery. “When you start, it’s cramped and dark, but as you go up through the gallery, it becomes lighter and lighter as you move through emancipation and the rising above of slavery.
“The gallery ends with an exhibit of Barack Obama and his inauguration.
“I have been in a lot of museums; this one was probably the most powerful,” Swart says.