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America's Black Holocaust Museum hopes to shape the future by understanding the past

Images found inside a museum display with text.
Teran Powell
Dr. James Cameron, the founder of ABHM. This is the first thing you see when you enter the ABHM gallery.

Understanding the past is crucial for a better future. As discourse about critical race theory is pushed to the forefront of our countries collective consciousness — Milwaukeeans will soon have a new Black historical hub with the reopening of America’s Black Holocaust Museum on Feb 25.

Started by the only known survivor of a lynching — James Cameron, America’s Black Holocaust Museum is dedicated to preserving and correcting the discourse on Black experiences. The resident historian for the museum, Robert Smith, says its goal is to familiarize visitors with the realities of Black history in America.

“The Black holocaust specifically we are talking about this process of enslavement first. … It’s a violent idea to take someone from their home, put them somewhere else and exploit their bodies in all kinds of ways,” he explains.

Smith says Cameron’s mission in starting the museum in the first place was to create a space where education can facilitate the understanding of injustice in America.

“It’s there to educate, to bring folks into conversation about these histories and also to make sure there is an ongoing conversation about why we need to remain mindful and remain committed,” says Smith.

With much of the museum working to inform visitors about the past, Smith says this is with the expressed intent of helping to understand our present and future. Something, he says, is still very much flawed.

"When we look back at our history because of the codification of it [injustice,] we understand now that the government is responsible for violence directed at African Americans,” says Smith. “Police shootings, policing, the carceral build up that is an extension of it and it forces us move into a consideration of how we understand violence.”

Beck Andrew Salgado was a producer with Lake Effect.
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