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Letters to the Editor

March 22, 2009

African-American history trip an eye-opener



To the editor:

On Feb. 7, a group of four adults and 15 children took a bus trip to Baltimore. The trip was arranged by Ron Lytle of Hagerstown's Contemporary School of the Arts and Gallery. The trip was made possible by the generosity of those who donated the bus, admission fees and food.

The group made three stops: The Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History and Culture, Great Blacks in Wax Museum and an African-American Art Show at the Baltimore Convention Center.

Lytle asked me to write about my experiences there.

I believe that credit should be given where credit is due. African-Americans have not always gotten the credit they deserve.

From the European discovery of America, Africans were here. They were "living tools" used to build much of the nation we live in. There were ugly times that I don't like to think about. I celebrate their triumphs in the face of adversity. The places we visited were showcases of their achievements.

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The Reginald Lewis Museum is impressive. It is planned around interactive learning centers. The kids seemed most interested in the center about schools in the segregated south.

They could sit at a makeshift desk like those in black schools. They learned that black students walked while white students threw things at them from their school buses.

At another center they learned that some slaves worked building ships and there was a hands-on activity on waterproofing a ship.

One display that caught the attention of some adults was a miniature of "Liberty." This is the statue on top of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. The Capitol dome and the statue were erected in 1863 - by slaves in the midst of the Civil War and after the Emancipation Proclamation.

The Great Blacks in Wax Museum was a different kind of experience. I was impressed by the great variety. The slave ship had people crammed into impossibly small spaces and scenes of brutality that were disturbing to look at, especially for the younger children.

There is a separate room about lynching that most of the group decided to skip. There was a presentation about slave life, especially about how they were punished (tortured) and how hard they worked. A man was expected to pick 500 pounds of cotton a day. The bale was huge.

There are more than 100 realistic wax statues in the museum. I was waiting for them to introduce themselves and shake hands. I had expected to see a lot of sports and entertainment figures, but they were from all walks of life.

They included some of my personal favorites. One is Mary McLeod Bethune, who started her school for girls with $1.50 and five students. Her school became Bethune-Cookman College. Her statue has such tired eyes.

And there's Bill Picket, the rodeo star, in the act of wrestling a steer, a technique he invented and perfected.

And Matthew Henson, the first man to reach the North Pole. And Henry Brown, who escaped slavery by shipping himself, in a wooden box, from Richmond to Philadelphia.

The art show was also very well done. We were running short on time, so we saw only a fraction of what was there: Painting in many styles and media, art glass, textiles, posters, dolls, sculpture, music ...

The artists were very willing to talk, not only about their own work, but about history as well. The young man with the posters was quite informative. I'm sorry I didn't get his name.

The exhibit was only a weekend event, so I can't revisit that, but I hope to make another trip to the museums.

This time I think I'd like to go with a smaller group and at a slower pace. I'd also like to revisit the museum gift shops.

They had books, games, gifts, etc. that I hadn't seen before. After all those emotional highs and lows, a girl needs some retail therapy.

Diane HamiltonvolunteerContemporary School of the Arts and GalleryHagerstown




Save don't-smoke effort



To the editor:

We need your voice to be heard by our Maryland legislators in Annapolis. We have experienced great success with our tobacco-control efforts in Maryland. Last year as a state, we banned smoking in public places. This ban protects customers and employees that visit or work in environments that once subjected people to the dangers of tobacco smoke.

Locally and throughout Maryland, efforts are ongoing to educate the public about the dangers of tobacco use and to help those who wish to quit. These efforts work on the side of prevention - prevention from tobacco-related illnesses. More people die from tobacco-related illnesses in Maryland than from deaths due to accidents, fires and AIDS.

The State of Maryland spends about $2.5 billion each year on treatment for tobacco-related illness. Of that, $1.5 billion is passed on to the taxpayers.

That adds up to about $552 per household in additional income tax. The way to lower this cost is prevention.

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