From: J. Stuart Cundiff
Shakespeare said it best in his classic comedy “Much Ado About Nothing.” Jeannine Lee Lake, the Democratic challenger to Rep. Greg Pence, has twaddled about the fact that there is African American memorabilia sprinkled throughout the Exit 76 Antique Mall’s 72,000 square feet, a mall owned and operated by Rep. Pence. To call attention to these artifacts as “objectionable” shows a dearth of information about such objects. It appears that the “much ado about nothing” is an attempt to garner political favor.
Take a page from Phillip J. Merrill, the only African American appraiser on PBS’s Antiques Roadshow. Merrill founded an organization called Nanny Jack that has over 30,000 such items of memorabilia. The company specializes in creating projects that illuminate the African American experience through just such items, oral history, and research.
Merrill has written several books concerning the art of collecting Black memorabilia; the Black American community in Baltimore, Maryland (his hometown); and chronicling the WWII Black regiment that built the Alaska Military Highway. During an interview on Antiques Roadshow, Merrill discussed the “importance of learning history from real artifacts and not just through textbooks.” He also stated, in another interview, “As the knowledge of the role that African Americans played in American history expands, this increased interest and appreciation of the items that traveled with us along (our) journey have increased in value for these items.”
In an article entitled “In Black Face,” dated June 1, 2005, Mary Ella Williams Willis wrote, “I pack a flashlight, magnifying glass, comfortable shoes, and solid bargaining skills when heading out at 6 a.m. to scavenge for Black memorabilia at thrift shops, antique shows, and flea markets. When I started collecting medicine and syrup bottles in the 1970s, if sellers had Black memorabilia you would have to ask for it and they’d bring it out from under the table.”
Today, Black memorabilia is a multi-million dollar industry. The article also quotes Merrill, who states, “In the next decade artifacts will grow to include elements of hip-hop, Black business, and historically Black colleges and universities.”
Every February, Willis opens her home to collectors and the curious to view and/or buy any of the 2,000 artifacts adorning her Atlanta home. Prices vary, from a soiled 1951 Ku Klux Klan hooded robe for $275 to an unopened box of Gold Dust washing powder for $59.
Let me sum it up. The Exit 76 Antique Mall is just that: an antique mall. The artifacts on display fall into that category. Some may be reproductions. If that’s the case…let the buyer beware. The practice of deceiving the unaware dates back over 2,000 years. Unscrupulous merchants would use resin and marble dust to fashion statues: often leaving small, unseen to the naked eye, cracks. Honest merchants would laboriously carve the statutes and advertise them as “Sine Cere” (without blemish – it’s where we get our word sincere).
I believe the challenger should leave race out of it and run on her merits alone.
Editor’s note: This letter is paid political content
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