Out of Africa

Beyond slavery, beyond civil rights, a whole other layer of African-American history often gets glossed over, or cut from school lesson plans entirely. The "Bin Yah Gullah" (Been There, Gullah) exhibit at the Children's Museum of Houston provides an opportunity to educate children and adults about the culture, contributions and talents of the Gullah people, the tradition-minded descendants of African slaves who live in relative isolation off the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia.

"Unfortunately, the years have shown us that most African-American children have grown up with a misrepresentation of their heritage," says Niobe Ngozi, the museum's director of art education and curator of the exhibits. Many, for instance, are unaware that as many as 40 percent of African-Americans have Gullah roots. (The West African natives made their way to the Sea Islands when they were brought to work the rice plantations as slaves.)

"It was a personal journey for me because I knew that by making the decision to focus on the Sea Islands, there was a potential to connect with family I'd never met. The work led me to another place I can now call home," says Ngozi, who grew up in New York. "I know the exhibit will give children information they have not had presented in this way….It provides a framework to support their pride, to inspire their pride."

Features include artwork by Jonathan Green, slave narratives spoken by the Actors Theater of South Carolina, and a history quilt created by children of the Project Row Houses after-school program. Interactive exhibits allow children to learn about weaving sweetgrass baskets, using indigo to dye fabric, creating Seminole patchwork and making African masks.

Adults should learn something about the contributions of the Gullah people as well. "When we did Gullah last year, the interest was across the board generationally," Ngozi says. So it's not all kid stuff.

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Brenda Tavakoli