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Visiting Atlanta’s APEX Museum in Celebration of Black History Month

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In honor of Black History Month, Communications Specialist and Co-Chair of Blacks & Allies at Groupon, Alia, visited the APEX Museum in Atlanta, GA. Take a moment to read through Alia's visit and some of her takeaways from her trip!

As the oldest Black museum in the city of Atlanta, visiting the APEX Museum has been on my list of things to do since I moved to Georgia. Being a Black American, I have long been a student of our history, especially our time here in the United States. While our journey over the last hundreds of years has been one that has been marked with deep pain and challenges, there are also so many triumphs of humanity. I love diving into the rich stories of our shared past and I always find new, interesting and inspiring lessons; I hope you will too! No matter how uncomfortable Black history is, we must continue to learn, teach and never forget the very history that helped build America.

The African-American Panoramic Experience Museum (APEX) was built on what was once described as “the richest Negro street in the world”, and is nestled on Auburn Avenue in the Sweet Auburn Historic District of Atlanta Georgia. Lying east of Downtown Atlanta, Sweet Auburn became a safe haven for black businesses to thrive following the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot — a two-day attack that left many Black people injured or dead due to violence during the Jim Crow Era. With the help of the surrounding Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), the district began to flourish, becoming home to many middle and upper-class Black people. However, by the time it was recognized as a National Historic Landmark, in 1976, many residents had been displaced and businesses were no longer succeeding, as “urban renewal” projects forced families to move, created physical barriers such as a highway that ran right through the district, and other disruptions that blocked continued growth of these areas. 

Inspired by the life of Dr. Benjamin Mays, an American Rights Activist who also mentored the prestigious Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, the museum was founded in 1978 by Dan Moore Sr. The mission of the APEX Museum is: “To interpret and present history from an African American perspective to help all Americans and international visitors better understand and appreciate the contributions of African Americans to America and the world.” Upon entering the APEX, I was immediately greeted with a smile and a short film on African history. The video displayed the names and villages of Kings and Queens who once ruled Africa and their contributions to their villages. After the film, I began my tour. 

“Whatever you do…never let them begin our history with slavery” - Asa G. Hilliard, III

This quote hit me like a ton of bricks. People, especially in America, usually think of slavery as the beginning of Black history. While slavery might be the beginning of Black History in America, it is certainly not the beginning of our lineage. The continent of Africa was once very rich and ruled by Kings and Queens, but slavery erased most of what was built and robbed Africa of its people, resources, future and so much more. It’s only right that we acknowledge that more.

The tour begins by describing Africa’s history with its strengths: natural resources, agriculture, inventions, practices, the ability to sustain life under difficult circumstances, etc. Then goes on to provide background on the different tribes of people that existed before countries were created and named. Of course, we all have heard of countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, and Egypt, but did you know these regions were home to tribes such as the Yoruba, Ashanti, Zulu and Kush? After learning about the different tribes and the countries they’ve turned into, you are next introduced to the tragedy of the Atlantic Slave Trade, a disgusting and profoundly shameful era in our global history. 

The next exhibit is a recreation of the dock in Ghana where millions of Africans took their last step on the continent of Africa —  The Door of No Return. This replica was made to mirror the Door of No Return in Accra, Ghana. I have learned about the Door of No Return through loved ones who have visited. Although I know the replica does not compare to the actual memorial, it completely took my breath away and smothered me in a silence I was not expecting. This moment really pulled at my heartstrings and sparked my need to visit Ghana and the Door of No Return even more.

Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped from ships because they knew death was better than bondage. - Killmonger from Marvel’s Black Panther 

The third exhibit displayed cargo ships that boarded slaves and the horrific conditions they endured for up to two months. During this voyage, people were chained and confined in tight spaces that often bred disease because of the unhygienic and inhumane conditions. Acts of rebellion took place occasionally, but there was not much the captured people could do. During my tour, we discussed one of the most inspiring stories of revolution during the Atlantic Slave Trade  — the Igbo Landing. In May 1803, enslaved Igbo people — a tribe of people from South East Nigeria  — arrived in Savannah, Georgia where they were sold and sent off to their plantations on St. Simons Island, right off the Georgia coast. Approximately 75 individuals rose up in rebellion and took control of their ship, refusing to submit to slavery and ultimately killing their captors. What happens next is not totally clear and recorded —  but it is said that those 75 people, led by their chief, made the ultimate sacrifice and walked hand in hand into the marshy waters, committing mass suicide. No matter how many times I hear this story I am always inspired by the bravery of this specific group of people. Resistance and strength have been the pinnacle of survival for African and Black people. Stories like these always encourage me to remain resilient and an agitator against wrongdoing and inhumanity.

Upon landing in America, Africans were immediately sold into slavery, and families were separated, forever. The Museum goes on to briefly describe life on the plantation and the many ways that black people stuck together and lifted one another up: singing, dancing, worshiping, jumping the broom (or getting married) and the underground railroad — a system that was used by enslaved blacks to escape slavery with the help of white people. When planning to escape, enslaved people utilized mapping systems that were sewn into quilts and/or braided into someone’s hair and followed the stars such as the Big Dipper which includes the North Star. Slaves looked out for one another by storing and sharing food and singing in order to communicate subtle hints. 

“Wade in the water. Wade in the water children. Wade in the water. God’s gonna trouble the water.” - Wade in the Water — a spiritual that slaves used as a code to sign to runaways to get off the trail and into the water because trouble was near. 

The APEX Museum does not display much on the Civil Rights Movement but instead jumps ahead in time to walk you through the early days of Sweet Auburn. I found the exhibits highlighting inventions that were created by black inventors particularly interesting. Here area few of the great inventions that black people contributed to society:

  • Home Security System - MarieVan Btirrtan Brown
  • Ice Cream Scooper - A.L. Cralle
  • Light Bulb Filament (the thin wire inside the light bulb) - Lewis Latimer
  • Ironing Board - Sarah Boone
  • Super Soaker - Lonnie G. Johnson
  • Gas Mask & Traffic Signal - Garrett Morgan

Visiting the APEX Museum was a great way for me to spend my Saturday afternoon. Although I knew a lot of the history that the museum provided, APEX did a great job bringing history to life through its exhibits. Going back to the mission of the APEX Museum, this is a great opportunity for all Americans and international visitors to experience African-American history in a much more personal way. I am excited to give my loved ones another place in Atlanta to explore and learn about their history and heritage. For those of you in the Atlanta area, or planning to visit soon, here is Groupon’s deal with the APEX Museum.  If you are not in the Atlanta area, check out Black Owned Businesses on Groupon in your area

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