Blogging Bayport Alameda

June 24, 2020

Other side of history

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:04 am

I’m going to start this off by saying that I’m not picking on the Alameda Museum, but rather pointing out how lack of representation in our City institutions both public and private lead to a sanitized view of history and we therefore have this incomplete context in which we discuss the issues of today.

One of our main institutions to share and preserve Alameda’s history is the Alameda Museum.  The Alameda Museum was first the “Alameda Historical Society” from which the Alameda Museum was established as a physical space. From the website itself:

Alameda is a unique island community located in the heart of the San Francisco Bay Area. We offer permanent displays of Alameda history as well as souvenirs, books and videos about the rich history of the Island City. The Alameda Historical Society was founded in 1948, and the Museum was established in 1951. In 1983 the Alameda Museum was designated as the official repository of historical documents and artifacts for the City of Alameda. In that role, the Alameda Museum affords us an invaluable glimpse into this city’s spectacular and often glamorous history. Tour the museum and learn more about our Island’s history. We hope you will include Alameda and the Alameda Museum in your next visit to the San Francisco Bay Area.

And the tagline of the Alameda Museum? “Preserving Alameda’s History since 1948.”  What becomes is which history has become worthy of presenting to the public in permanent exhibits.  Based on the Museum’s own website the only collection featuring BIPOC is the Native American Artifacts Display which appears to be one single platform with some mortars and pestles.  (You can see a photo on the Yelp page) I wish I had the opportunity (and time) to measure out how much floor and display space is allotted to each subject matter, but alas.

If you’re looking at an encapsulated representation of the only history that has been deemed worthy of telling in Alameda for the last 80 years or so, look no further than the collections on display at the Museum.  According to the website this is the list:

  • The Victorian Era Section
  • Architectural Detail Grouping
  • Neptune Beach and 1920’s Era Display
  • 1920’s Household Furnishings Display
  • Alameda Women’s World Champion Softball Team
  • 1930’s Barbershop
  • Telephone Communication Display
  • Kitchen Display (circa 1897-1923)
  • World Globe
  • Three Masted Sailing Vessel Model
  • Alaska Packers Association Display
  • Ferryboat “Sacramento” Model
  • Two Wheel Wooden Cart
  • Steam Train Replica
  • Artesian Water Works Display
  • Native American Artifacts Display
  • The City Hall & City Government Exhibits
  • The Fire Department Exhibits
  • Dry Cleaning Business Display
  • Medical Cabinet
  • Industries – N. Clark & Sons Pottery
  • Alameda Panoramic Photograph
  • Cast Iron Toys Display
  • Ladies’ Fashion Accessories
  • Lady’s Study
  • Doll Room

What is clear based on all these conversations we’ve been having about race and history — show of hands, who actually knew the story of Tulsa and Black Wall Street prior to the planned Donald Trump rally or the HBO series the Watchmen, yeah, thought so — we are doing a really poor job telling the history of anything but from the side of the victor.

We need our institutions to examine their missions and what they want their legacy to be moving forward in this world where the whitewashed version of events is not enough anymore and, in fact, perpetuate the systemic prejudices that oppress.  A small way that the Alameda Museum can start is by making room for voices and images they’ve rarely elevated or showcased.

If Alameda Museum and its leadership do not have the internal resources to develop a proper exhibit and/or collection that can represent more than just these whitewashed parts of Alameda’s history then it should outsource that to a curator that can.  I’m sure that sponsors could be found for a such a worthwhile project.

8 Comments »

  1. The Hayward Historical Society had excellent exhibits and teaching materials produced by teachers that were inclusive. They used grants for the money and hired teachers each year to cover various aspects of the city’s history. One year was curriculum around each decade and an immigrant group. Another was a series of businesses. Teachers wrote classroom curriculum around a box of realia that was available for teachers to check out for a week. Materials were also available online.

    Comment by Dj — June 24, 2020 @ 6:44 am

    • What an excellent idea!

      Comment by Lauren Do — June 24, 2020 @ 7:02 am

      • I participated in both curriculum developments and would be happy to do so here too.

        Comment by Dj — June 24, 2020 @ 7:11 am

  2. Hand raised:

    I learned about Tulsa and Rosewood in a college Civil. War history class in late 80s. The class has a post reconstruction coda section where those were discussed. Dr Taylor was the prof.

    I learned about Juneteenth in high school early 80s. At that time I also learned that the Galveston freedmen weren’t the last slaves in America, rather the last ones freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. Legal slavery remained in forced through December 1865 in Kentucky and Delaware. Mr Waks was teacher. (Great guy. Ran into him at the track years later and he bought me a beer when his horse won).

    Comment by dave — June 24, 2020 @ 7:31 am

  3. I fought for the inclusion of slavery, reconstruction, Jim Crow, the civil rights movement, and the Lost Cause in the history classes taught at the business college I attended. This important part of our history was intentionally left out of the history text books chosen to teach the future corporate leaders of my time.

    The omission of this chapter of our history from our schools and other learning institutions including museums is a lost opportunity – for teaching, learning, and racial understanding. Its inclusion can lay the groundwork for racial healing.

    On another note: “Show of hands, who actually knew the story of Tulsa and Black Wall Street?”.

    My great uncle was one of the early black settlers who migrated from Texas to Boley Oklahoma – another black town in Oklahoma. Like Tulsa, Boley Oklahoma became a prosperous town and black families and farmers fled to the promise lands for new opportunities.

    The race riots of Tulsa Oklahoma is another sad chapter of racism in our country, and yet there are other important lessons we can learn from this chapter as well.

    Comment by Karen Bey — June 24, 2020 @ 10:52 am

  4. This is a longer piece that came out around the same time as “The Last Dance” about Michael Jordan’s family in the Wilmington, NC area, including a section about a race riot – similar in scale to Tulsa – that occurred there in 1898 around an election.

    https://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/29180890/michael-jordan-history-flight

    Comment by MP — June 24, 2020 @ 11:51 am

  5. Very few local museums have a history of curators or anything near professionals. Mostly it’s a matter of enough somebodies having collected this or that. Then eventually they went around (or their heirs did) to see if they could find a place to show or leave it. Alameda is luckier than most to have families that have stayed here and have generational hoarders, and some volunteers willing to do the heavy lifting, but I don’t think most of us ever have thought that it was or was attempting to be anything near the Oakland. I would give the museum people credit for managing to save what they have. Could more people and money, different people and money do more, maybe even better? Sure, but we might want to start to prioritize which part of “everything” we want to do first, second, third.

    One of the things that caught us up during the eras of civil rights, women’s rights, free speech, equal rights is our inability to be willing to work with others on a couple of things at a time. No one was willing to have their cause come second until we succeeded with something else. So, we managed to do much less while we bickered with each other.

    Comment by Li_ — June 27, 2020 @ 6:51 pm


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