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Thursday, May 12, 2016

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Connecting to History at the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center

Robin Foster

On a recent trip to uncover my family history and connections to AME Church history, I decided to explore the National Afro-American Museum  and Cultural Center in Wilberforce, Ohio.  They have great exhibits and programs which share African American history, and the museum is located in the immediate vicinity of Wilberforce University, Central State University, and Payne Theological Seminary.  I was not disappointed. 

The current main exhibit is Conscience of the Human Spirit: The Life of Nelson Mandela which runs to October 9, 2016. It features 59 quilts that depict the life of Mandela.

The exhibits that coincided the most with my interests were:
  • Wilberforce University
  • Daniel Alexander Payne (1811-1893)
  • Central State University
  • Colonel Charles Young

The NAAMCC exhibits have helped me to understand the significance of education and the influence of the AME Church in this area where my mother and her family migrated to from South Carolina in the mid 1950's.

The importance of learning and the high moral principles which carried over into my upbringing are the foundation for the character that I possess today. I never saw the strict values that we lived by as a damper on my freedom of expression. 

Our way of life extends back into the generations where my ancestors were held captive physically. I know for certain that no limit could hinder their faith nor their progression. My habits were schooled from my childhood, and inspiration flows into my life each day as a reward for obedience. No matter my earthly trials or shortcomings, my lifestyle has led to pure joy, discovery, and true freedom.

My aim is to research so completely that I am able to fully comprehend the grit, sacrifice, and wisdom exhibited by my people and those who acted favorably toward them to the extent that I am able to retell their stories for future generations. Certain voices today disturb me in that they do not take into account the full history of my people and their progress while facing great challenges. I want my children to consider their family history within the context of African American history.

Daniel Alexander Payne (1811-1893) By Not visible
(Recollections of Seventy Years. [1])
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
One great ancestor was Rev. Lafayette Franklin Vance (1861-1952). He was a contemporary of Daniel Payne (1811-1893) who I began researching a few years ago in Charleston.  The more I learn about Daniel Payne, the more I glean about the ambition of Lafayette. All trials and tribulations suffered by my ancestors down to myself have worked to turn us into the best people we could possibly be.  Ease could never do that for us, and opposition does not crush our spirits.

Daniel Payne's father purchased his own freedom for $1,000.00. Daniel was born of free parents in Charleston, SC in 1811, but he was orphaned by the age of nine. He was taken in by the Minor's Moralist Society run by free men of color which supported the poor and orphaned children.  

"I was put into this Society's school for two years, when I was about eight years old; after which I was instructed by Mr. Thomas S. Bonneau, the most popular school-master in the city, for about three years. There I learned to spell, read, and write, and "cipher" as far as the "Rule of Three." The chief books used for reading were monographs of the histories of Greece, Rome, and England; while the "Columbian Orator" was the book used for training in the art of speaking. When about twelve years of age I was hired out to a shoe-merchant, with whom I did not stay long. When nearly thirteen years old I was put to the carpenter's trade with my brother-in-law, James Holloway, the eldest son of Mr. Richard Holloway. I spent four and a half years with him. I then spent nine months at the tailor's trade."  See Recollections of Seventy Years.

Through the many resources I have discovered which document the life of Daniel Payne, I have been led to historical documentation on my great grandfather, Lafayette. I am finding so many parralells in their determination and principles. Payne established his own school in Charleston, but he was forced to close it when South Carolina enacted a law in 1835 preventing the education of blacks. Payne left South Carolina. Imagine my joy when I discovered that the AME Church purchased Wilberforce University in 1863, my mother's alma mater. They chose Daniel Payne as the first president. I always knew I needed to journey there to reconnect to my family history and the history of the AME Church.

I will share more specifics about our visit to the museum and what I learned in the next post.


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