The Howard University Museum is located in one room in the Founders Library. Being unfamiliar with the campus, it took me some time to find the building (from this experience and an occasion in December when I volunteered at an event on the campus, I’ve learned not to rely on Googlemaps for finding the university’s buildings). Of course, I stuck out a bit as I wandered the campus, which is eye-opening on the rare occasions this happens to me; it’s a reminder that there are others who feel they stick out all the time.
I initially found the museum confusing, as two different exhibits (one about the history of Howard University, and one about Abraham Lincoln) were both spread out concurrently through the space. I walked around once to get my bearings, again to look at all the Lincoln pieces, and a third time to look at everything related to Howard history.
The content relating to Lincoln included a few sculptures, portraits and papers in glass cases, and several of Lincoln’s famous quotes. In the 1865 drawing below, Lincoln is the white cat, pushing Jefferson Davis the gray cat from the food dish of the southern states. The black cat represents slaves who escaped to the North.
The images from Howard University showed students being students for the last century and a half: conducting experiments in science lab, dressing up for May Day celebrations, posing with their fellow members of the swim team or glee club, wearing a cap and gown for commencement. They were exactly the sort of pictures that populate a college yearbook.
Other photos showed leaders and celebrities speaking or shaking hands on campus. I found several of the individuals I included in the Heroes on Stamps programming I developed for the National Postal Museum (a young Martin Luther King Jr., Marian Anderson, Eleanor Roosevelt, George Washington Carver… too many to list here).
In a much larger space, any of these interesting objects or images could play a part in a dynamic, multifaceted history exhibit for generations to enjoy together. As they are, they comprise a quietly inspiring room in a university library; with little text beyond captions identifying a scene, as well as the Abraham Lincoln quotes, the pieces are largely left to speak for themselves.
This led me to wonder who the intended audience is. Current Howard University students? In my own college days, Wesleyan University’s Olin Library had display cases showing this or that object of historical interest. At 19 years old, I was too busy searching for articles to use in term papers, or cramming for a midterm, to pay attention to exhibits in the library. Maybe I should have taken a study break and looked.