2005-02-10 / Travel

Detroit Museums Take Visitors On Black-History Journey

Courtesy of Charles H. Wright MuseumCourtesy of Charles H. Wright Museum The slave fortress is dimly lit with lanterns, and the white brick walls are stained with mildew. There’s nothing here but iron bars and shackles. Still, this isn’t the end of hope. That comes later when you walk through the fort’s “door of no return” and onto the slave ship. To your right is your last glimpse of West Africa. To your left, the endless blue expanse of the Atlantic.

In its new exhibit, titled “And Still We Rise,” the Charles H. Wright Mu-seum of African American History lets visitors retrace the black experience. From the vividly recreated slave ship, the journey continues to the port of Annapolis, Maryland, then on to a plant-ation, the Underground Railroad and the Great Migration north, before ending in 20th-century Detroit.

Steel mill exhibit (above) is part of tour at Charles H. Wright Museum in Detroit.                  Paul Sancya/APSteel mill exhibit (above) is part of tour at Charles H. Wright Museum in Detroit. Paul Sancya/AP One of the nation’s largest museums of black history, the Wright museum is the logical place to start a black heritage tour of Detroit. But it’s far from the only stop.

Founded in 1965, the non-profit Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, exists to serve Me-tropolitan Detroit and national communities by providing exceptional ex-hibitions and programs based on out-standing collections and research that explore the diversity of African Ameri-can history and culture.

The museum strives to be a world-renowned history museum with outstanding collections and research used to produce innovative exhibits that celebrate significant events and accomplishments of African Americans.

Next door, a lifelike model of Har-riet Tubman stands in a barn and, in a gruff voice, encourages you to take your chance to run to freedom on the Underground Railroad.

Here, the story runs into Detroit’s own narrative. Abolitionists in this border city played a key role in shuttling people to safety in Canada.

As a major terminal on the Under-ground Railroad and a key destination for southern blacks in the early 20th century, Detroit figures prominently in black economic, social and artistic history. Among the main sights are a church that served as an Underground Railroad “station,’’ the 19th-century Ontario homestead of a former slave, and the Motown Historical Museum.

One of Detroit’s best-known business success stories – Motown Records – is enshrined in its own museum. Located in two side-by-side houses, the Motown Historical Museum chro-nicles the rise of the business from the first $800 loan producer Berry Gordy Jr. acquired from his family and its growth into a major record label that created its own influential musical style. The museum houses such memorabilia as three 30-pound, pink-sequined dresses once worn by the Supremes.

The studio where they and other Motown artists – such as Stevie Won-der, the Four Tops and Smokey Rob-inson – recorded their hits from 1959 to 1972 is preserved in all its understated glory in a converted garage.

For those hungry for more, the city is dotted with historic black churches, landmark buildings and smaller museums.

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