February is Black History Month.
This month, we’ll explore Milwaukee’s history of racial justice movements, Black scientists, and the Watson Family featured in the Streets of Old Milwaukee. Visit us in person, or dive into our virtual resources to learn more!
At the Museum
Join MPM Educators for in-person drop in programming on the following days in February:
- Monday, February 21, 2022 from 10:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. (President’s Day Programming)
- Thursday, February 24, 2022 from 10:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
- Friday, February 25, 2022 from 10:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
Social Justice Timeline
Milwaukee has a rich history of militant, principled struggles for racial justice. Use our timeline to learn more about the tactics, timing, and outcomes of these local efforts to create an equitable future - onsite or at home.
If you visit MPM this month, you may see our Get Curious signage on the Third Floor by Africa. Visitors are encouraged to “get curious” about the history, creation, and traditions surrounding kente cloth.
West Africa is known for a range of stunning cloths. One of the best known African textiles is the kente cloth, traditionally made and worn by the Asante and Ewe peoples of Ghana and Togo. In the past, kente cloth was reserved for royalty who wore symbolic designs, each with its own name, for specific occasions. Kente represented power, wealth, and high status. Today, the bold and colorful designs of kente cloth are found around the world. In the United States, kente designs are a symbol of pride and unity for many African Americans. Kente designs have become a part of American traditions and are often worn during graduation ceremonies, to celebrate holidays, and displayed as symbols of African identity.
Notice the patterns and weaving of the cloth. How do you think kente cloth is made?
Kente cloth is traditionally made of silk or cotton. The dye for the threads can be made locally by grinding the bark or leaves of trees. Today, commercially produced fabric and dye is often used because of the cheaper price and convenience.
Kente is woven on a narrow loom into long strips of fabric about four to eight inches wide. The fabric is then cut into pieces which are then sewn together to form the cloth. The patterns are created by the warp(the pattern that runs lengthwise, with threads attached to the loom before weaving starts) and the weft (the threads the weaver passes through the warp).
The colors used in kente cloth are symbolic. Yellow typically represents wealth, royalty, and fertility. What do you think the colors might represent?
The design and cloth as a whole often convey a specific meaning, while each color tells its own story.
- Yellow and gold represent wealth, royalty, and fertility
- Blue is for love, peace, and harmony
- Green represents land and vegetation, and growth and energy
- Red means passion, death, or violence
- Pink and purple represent femininity
- White can mean healing, purity, or victory
- Black represents spiritual strength and maturity
Meet the Watsons
Sully and Susanna Watson took their family from the oppressive conditions of antebellum Virginia in 1834 and, after several years in Ohio, arrived in Milwaukee in 1850. Through skilled labor and business entrepreneurship, the couple played a vital role in establishing Milwaukee’s Black middle class. Explore the Watson's family history through images that illustrate this vibrant era in the city’s Black heritage. Stop by the Streets Nickelodeon Theater anytime during February to watch a special video honoring Black History Month.
American’s Black Holocaust (ABHM) Virtual Museum
With more than 3,300 pages of content, ABHM’s recently upgraded virtual museum explores 400-plus years of history with the primary goals of educating and creating space for racial repair, reconciliation, and healing. ABHM’s virtual museum is a valuable resource for the growing demand for accurate information and dialogue on the complex issues surrounding race, equity and injustice in the United States.
Watch our video to learn about John C. Robinson’s book Birding for Everyone - Encouraging People of Color to Become Birdwatchers. Find out how you can become a novice birder and create your own birding Field Notebook to get started:
The Watson Family
Check out our video to learn more about the couple who played a vital role in establishing Milwaukee’s Black middle class.
Want to learn more about this month’s theme? Check out Milwaukee Public Library’s booklist for reading recommendations.
Dr. James Cameron Pamphlet Collection at Milwaukee Public Library
The Dr. James Cameron Pamphlet Collection is made up of 38 self-published pamphlets by civil rights activist Dr. James Cameron (1914-2006). Dr. Cameron was the only known survivor of a lynching and the founder of the America’s Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee, WI.
A self-taught historian and lecturer, Cameron devoted his life to raising Americans’ consciousness and conscience about the legacy of slavery and educating the public about the injustices suffered by people of African descent in America. Topics addressed in the pamphlets include slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, lynching, the Ku Klux Klan, the Civil Rights, and Milwaukee police/community relations, and provide a unique perspective of American history and an unabashed critique of the social issues of the day.
After years of planning and rebuilding, America’s Black Holocaust Museum will reopen on February 25, 2022. The museum building will re-emerge at the corner of Vel R. Phillips and North Avenue in Milwaukee in a brand-new facility with inspiring new exhibits. The updated galleries will take visitors on a chronological journey through the 400-plus years of history of African Americans from pre-captivity to the present, uniquely displaying the under-told stories as an integral part of American history. ABHM, an integrated physical and virtual experience, will continue to serve as a catalyst to educate and create space for critical conversation, reconciliation, and healing to promote a more equitable world without racism.