Tag Archives: africa

Why All Maps are Wrong about Africa

Risen Africa

Take a look at any map of the world. As most maps in schools do, then your whole perception of our world is incredibly inaccurate. We all know that Africa is big, it is in fact a gargantuan place which is something that our maps have often failed to portray. However, despite the common perception that Africa is a large landmass, it’s still one that is vastly underestimated by most casual map viewers. As map nerds already know, this is due to the common use of the Mercator projection.

The Mercator projection has distorted our geographical view of the world in a crucial way – one that often leads to misconceptions about the relative sizes of countries and continents. Because the world is a sphere, it is impossible to draw it on a flat surface without distorting it in some way. It’s almost impossible to get it to lie flat.

Our perception and interpretation of big countries is different compared to small ones because bigger countries appear more powerful and intimidating, so when we shrink and stretch countries it gives us an inaccurate mental yardstick for judging the relative sizes of countries. As we all know perceptions are definitively powerful. It is widely perceived that smaller countries or continents are weaker and less significant.

What makes the Mercator projection particularly controversial is that it makes Europe and the United States look much larger than they really are in reality, giving them more prominence. If you want to see the true size of countries and continents, you can use the Gall Peters Projection. As with all map projections, Gall-Peters is accurate in terms of size but inaccurate when it comes to other properties, most notably shapes. This projection also has its flaws.

Risen Africa seeks to educate and connect Africa to the rest of the world through taking a closer look at the continent, the countries, the people, economies, geopolitics, successes and challenges.

A truly pan-African channel that provides a better understanding of Africa.

Painful but crucial: Why you’ll see Emmett Till’s casket at the African American museum

Simeon Wright recalls the events surrounding his cousin’s murder and the importance of having the casket on public display

In 1955, Emmett Till—a 14-year-old African-American visiting Mississippi from Chicago—was murdered after whistling at a white woman. His mother insisted that her son be displayed in a glass-topped casket, so the world could see his beaten body. Till’s murder became a rallying point for the civil rights movement, and his family recently donated the casket in which he was buried to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Till’s cousin Simeon Wright, 67, who was with him the night he was kidnapped and murdered, spoke with the magazine’s Abby Callard.

What was Emmett like?
He loved to tell jokes and loved for people to tell him jokes. In school, he might pull the fire alarm just to get out of class. To him that would be funny. We found out that what was dangerous to us was funny to him. He really had no sense of danger.

What happened at the store between Emmett and Carolyn Bryant has been debated, what do you remember happening?
We went to the store that night. My nephew that came down from Chicago with Emmett went into the store first, and Emmett went in the store after him. So Wheeler came out, and Maurice sent me inside the store to be with him to make sure he didn’t say anything out of line. There was about less than a minute that he was in there by himself. During that time I don’t know what he said, but when I was in there, he said nothing to her. He didn’t have time, she was behind the counter, so he didn’t put his arms around her or anything like that. While I was in there he said nothing. But, after we left the store, we both walked out together, she came outside going to her car. As she was going to her car, he did whistle at her. That’s what scared her so bad. The only thing that I saw him do was that he did whistle.

Because he was from Chicago, do you think Emmett’s unfamiliarity with the South during the Jim Crow era contributed to what happened?
It could have been the reason he did it, because he was warned not to do anything like that, how he was supposed to act. I think what he did was trying to impress us. He said, “You guys might be afraid to do something like this, but not me.” Another thing. He really didn’t know the danger. He had no idea how dangerous that was; because when he saw our reaction, he got scared too.

You were in the same bed as Emmett when the two men came for him, right?
Yes, when they came that night, that Sunday morning, he and I were in the same bed. I was the first one to wake up because I heard the noise and the loud talking. The men made me lie back down and ordered Emmett to get up and put his clothes on. During that time, I had no idea what was going on. Pretty soon, my mother came in there pleading with them not to take Emmett. At that point, she offered them money. One of the men, Roy Bryant, he kind of hesitated at the idea but J.W. Milam, he was a mean guy. He was the guy with the gun and the flashlight, he wouldn’t hear of it. He continued to have Emmett put his clothes on. Then, after Emmett was dressed, they marched him out of the house into a truck that was waiting outside. When they got out to the truck, they asked the person inside the truck, “Was this the right boy.” A lady’s voice responded that it was.

You attended the trial. Were you at all surprised that the murderers were acquitted?
I was shocked. I was expecting a verdict of guilty. I’m still shocked. I believe sincerely that if they had convicted those men 54 years ago that Emmett’s story wouldn’t have been in the headlines. We’d have forgotten about it by now.

Your family left Mississippi after the trial, right?
My mother left the same night [he was taken]. She left that house, she didn’t leave Mississippi, she left that house and went to a place called Sumner, where they had the trial. Her brother lived in Sumner, and she stayed there until his body was found. She was on the same train that his body was going back to Chicago. We left, my dad and my two brothers, left the Saturday, the Monday after the verdict. The verdict came in on a Friday, I believe, that Monday we were on a train headed to Chicago.

Why did you leave?
My mother was, she was so scared and there was no way that my dad was going to be able to live there anymore. After the verdict, my dad was so disappointed. He had had enough of Mississippi. He had heard of things like this happening to African Americans, but nothing had ever happened to him like that—firsthand victim of racism, and the Jim Crow system. He said that was enough. He just didn’t want no part of Mississippi anymore.

How did you and the rest of your family feel about Emmett’s mother’s decision to hold the funeral with an open casket?
Well, an open casket is a common thing in African American tradition. But one of the reasons they didn’t want her to open the casket was because of the stench, because of the smell. They designed the casket with the glass over it and what not. She said it herself, she wanted to world to see what those men had done to her son because no one would have believed it if they didn’t the picture or didn’t see the casket. No one would have believed it. And when they saw what happened, this motivated a lot of people that were standing, what we call “on the fence,” against racism. It encouraged them to get in the fight and do something about it. That’s why many say that that was the beginning of the civil rights era. From experience, you can add, what they mean by that is we was always as a people, African Americans, was fighting for our civil rights, but now we had the whole nation behind us. We had whites, we had Jews, Italians, Irishmen jumping in the fight, saying that racism was wrong.

How did the casket become available?
In 2005, we had to exhume Emmett’s body. The State of Mississippi would not reopen the case unless we could prove that the body buried at the cemetery was Emmett’s. State law prohibited us from placing that casket back into the grave, so we had to bury him in a new casket. We set this casket aside to preserve it because the cemetery was planning on making a memorial for Emmett and his mother. They was going to move his mother and have the casket on display. But you see what happened, someone took the money and discarded the casket in the shed.

How did you find out about the casket?
A radio personality called me about six in the morning asking me questions about it. They were on top of what was going on at the cemetery. I told him what was supposed to happen to the casket. He kept asking me questions and I said “Wait a minute, let me go out there and check and see. I don’t know what’s going on. Let me go out to cemetery and get some answers, find out what’s going on out there.” That’s when I saw the casket sitting in the shed deteriorating. The last time my cousin saw the casket it was inside of the building, preserved. We don’t know who moved it out into the shed but I got a chance to see it, it was just horrible the way they had discarded it like that without even notifying us. They could have called the family, but they didn’t.

Why did you decide to donate the casket to the Smithsonian?
Donating it to the Smithsonian was beyond our wildest dreams. We had no idea that it would go that high. We wanted to preserve it, we wanted to donate it to a civil rights museum. Smithsonian, I mean that’s the top of the line. It didn’t even cross our mind that it would go there, but when they expressed interested an in it, we was overjoyed. I mean, people are going to come from all over the world. And they’re going to view this casket, and they’re going to ask questions. “What’s the purpose of it?” And then their mothers or fathers or a curator, whoever is leading them through the museum, they’ll begin to explain to them the story, what happened to Emmett. What he did in Mississippi and how it cost him his life. And how a racist jury knew that these men were guilty, but then they go free. They’ll get a chance to hear the story, then they’ll be able to… perhaps, a lot of these young kids perhaps, they will dedicate their lives to law enforcement or something like that. They will go out and do their best to help the little guys that can’t help themselves. Because in Mississippi, in 1955, we had no one to help us, not even the law enforcement. No one to help us. I hope that this will inspire our younger generation to be helpers to one another.

What feelings do you experience when you see the casket today?
I see something that held the object of a mother’s unconditional love. And then I see a love that was interrupted and shattered by racial hatred without a cause. It brings back memories that some would like to forget, but to forget is to deny life itself. For as you grow older, you are going to find out life is laced with memories. You’re going to talk about the good old days. When you get 50, you’re going to talk about your teenage days. You’re going to listen to music from the teenage days. You don’t have to believe me, just trust me on that. I’m not talking about what I read in a book. I’m talking about what I’ve experienced already. Also, it brings to our memories where we have been and where we are now and where we’re going. People look at this casket and say, “You mean to tell me this happened in America?” And we will have a part of the artifacts from that era to prove to them that things like this went on in America. Just like the Civil War. By histories of the Civil War. Even today, it seems impossible to me that the Civil War took place in America. Here you have white fathers and sons fighting against each other. Mothers and daughters fighting against each other because one felt that slavery was wrong and one felt that it was all right. And they began to kill each over that. That’s hard for me to believe but I see the statues. I see the statues of the solders, the Union soldiers and the Confederate soldiers, and it just helps us to believe the past. This casket’s going to help millions to understand and believe that racism, the Jim Crow system, was alive and well in America back in 1955.

What is your hope for the casket?
Well, I hope, I know one thing, it’s going to speak louder than pictures, books or films because this casket is the very image of what has been written or displayed on these pictures. I hope it’s going to make people think “If I had been there in 1955, I would have done all I could to help that family.” If it could just evoke just that one thought in someone, it would be enough, because then they would go out and help their fellow man, their community and the church and the school, wherever. We have, you know, I just had a couple of months ago a young man, 14 years of age, committed suicide because of bullies in his school. If it could just evoke that one emotion, that “if I had been there, I would have helped you.” That’s all I want.

In what ways do you feel that Emmett’s story is still relevant today?
You know, it’s amazing that he is still relevant. Like I said at the beginning, the reason is because of the jury’s verdict. If the jury’s verdict had come in guilty, Emmett would have been forgotten about. But [Emmett’s story] shows people that if we allow lawlessness to go on, if we do nothing to punish those who break the law, then it’s going to get worse. It’s going to get worse. And we can look back and say, look what happened to Emmett. He was murdered for no reason, and those in charge did nothing about it. Wherever you have that, whatever city you have that in, it could be in Washington, it could be in New York, where you have murder and crime going on and the people do nothing about it, it’s going to increase and destroy your society.

Wright’s book, Simeon’s Story: An Eyewitness Account of the Kidnapping of Emmett Till (Lawrence Hill Books) will be released in January 2010.


Why no major Martin Luther King Jr. artifacts will be at the new African American museum

Martin Luther King Jr.’s children called the museum with an intriguing invitation.

They had something they knew the National Museum of African American History and Culture wanted. So in January, curator Rex Ellis headed to Atlanta, slipped on a pair of white gloves, and carefully turned the pages of King’s traveling Bible. The public last saw it during President Obama’s second inauguration when it was borrowed from the family.

“It was heavier than I thought it would be,” remembers Ellis, the museum’s associate director of curatorial affairs. “Not only was it the weight of the object itself but the weight of what it was. You’re holding it like it’s a baby. I was uncomfortable holding it for long.”

Ellis and his colleagues didn’t hold it for long. The half-hour meeting with Martin III ended without a loan, a gift or any other promises. The Bible and a second key item, the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to King in 1964, were placed back into a bank vault.

When the museum opens Sept. 24, no major artifacts from the civil rights icon will be on display.

“It’s outrageous,” said Clarence Jones, the former King attorney who filed the copyright for his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. “This is the Smithsonian. This is not just another party. This is one of the most important institutions now in the 21st century. And this is probably the greatest civil rights leader in the 20th century. I find it shameful and I’m sad.”

Jones doesn’t blame the museum’s curators, instead focusing on the widely known obstacle historians, filmmakers and others have faced for years: King’s children, Bernice, Martin III and Dexter.

For years, the siblings have blocked media outlets from using King’s words or image without paying what some have described as exorbitant licensing fees. The nonprofit foundation that built the monument to King on the Mall, finished in 2011, paid $800,000. The estate also has sued when they think they are not being sufficiently compensated. That included going after King’s close friend Harry Belafonte when the actor and singer wanted to sell letters and other papers given him by King for charity. Belafonte eventually sued the King estate and won the right to bring the items to auction. In 2013, the King estate, as part of a lawsuit, demanded that Andrew Young, another King confidant and the former mayor of Atlanta, be removed from the board of the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change after his foundation used material featuring King in a documentary. The case was dismissed.

The children have taken each other to court repeatedly. Bernice and Martin III once sued Dexter. Dexter sued them back. Most recently, Martin and Dexter sued Bernice over who has the authority to sell the Nobel Peace Prize and Bible. Former President Jimmy Carter was brought in to help mediate an agreement. Last month, a judge settled it instead, clearing the way for the brothers to sell the Nobel Prize and Bible.

Given these seemingly endless conflicts, historian David J. Garrow said he’s not surprised that the museum will open without a single item given or loaned by the King family.

“I could not be more cynical, more jaded on this subject,” said Garrow, who won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for his book “Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.” “Given the family’s behavior this last 20 years, they’re unlikely to have any interest in sharing without a large upfront payment.”

It’s not clear what the King children plan to do with the precious items now that the latest round of lawsuits is resolved.

Attempts to talk with the siblings offer a glimpse into the delicacy of the relationship.

For a week, the family did not respond to repeated requests for interviews. Finally, Dexter King asked Phillip Jones, a friend and the general manager of the King estate, to respond. In an interview Thursday night, Jones said the family would be open to the artifacts ending up in the museum but that there had been no discussions about how that might occur. The King children, he said, have been focused on repairing the relationships damaged by the most recent lawsuit.

“It’s an extraordinary museum and the family believes that, certainly,” said Jones. “And we think it would be wonderful if these items were there. We just haven’t been able to focus on it.”

But on Friday morning, Jones spoke to Dexter King, who told him he was not authorized to speak for the family, only the estate. Jones demanded that references to “family” or “we” be removed from any of his previous quotes.

“It would not even be this way if there had not been legal disagreements between these family members who are trying to heal,” said Jones. “[Dexter] reminded me how sensitive things are.”

It’s important to note that the museum has not asked to borrow items from the family.

Museum Director Lonnie Bunch said that’s because the museum prefers to seek out permanent works that don’t need to be returned. Michèle Gates Moresi, supervisory museum curator of collections, who also went on the January visit to Atlanta to see the Kings, described the meeting as a first step in building a relationship. In addition, the curators knew the legal dispute still hovered over the items and that, even if they were available to buy, the museum doesn’t have that kind of money on hand.

[The largest private donations to the National Museum of African American History]

“I knew this was just going to be an exploratory face-to-face, a chance to get to meet them,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting going in that a miracle would happen and things would change overnight just because they met with us.”

“I knew this was just going to be an exploratory face-to-face, a chance to get to meet them,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting going in that a miracle would happen and things would change overnight just because they met with us.”

Ellis said that while there are no “major” artifacts from King in the new museum, he believes the exhibitions and works on display tell the story of the civil rights movement. There are 165 items listed under King at the museum, the majority of them photographs, vinyl records and buttons.

“There are artifacts that we wish we did have from his personal collection,” Ellis said, “but I would not say that what we have represents a missed opportunity.”

Young, despite his past issues with the King children, hopes that critics think about what the siblings have been through. They were children when their 39-year-old father was assassinated in Memphis, and he did not leave them much money.

“It was not only losing their father, but their grandmother was shot at the organ playing the Lord’s Prayer, in church,” said Young, who marched in Selma with King and was with him when he died. “Their uncle drowned mysteriously in his own swimming pool. . . . It’s been a really difficult road.”

But Young also is frustrated. He has reminded his own children, he said, that the family legacy is “theirs and nobody could take it away from them but it wasn’t to be monetized.”

In 2006, Young said, he helped encourage the fundraising to buy King’s papers when the four siblings — the oldest, Yolanda, died in 2007 — announced they planned to sell them at Sotheby’s. Then-Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin raised $32 million to buy the papers and place them at King’s alma mater, Morehouse College.

“I would have thought that would have been more than enough for four people to live on,” Young said. “But they spent their money suing each other about I don’t know what.”

This reputation for being difficult and litigious is one reason why museum leaders did not expect much from the King estate.

“I think I had low expectations,” said Spencer Crew, a guest curator and former director of the National Museum of American History. “That came from having been at the Museum of American History and having curators there who, even with good relationships, couldn’t exact things from them.”

Clayborne Carson, the Stanford University professor selected by Coretta Scott King to edit her husband’s papers, said that the challenges of working with the siblings are no secret.

“They’ve made clear that they’re not going to just give away his legacy, so I just think realistically you have to move on,” he said. “Yes, it would be nice if they simply donated what they had inherited from their father but I’m not sure how many people put in the same situation would. If your father was Frank Lloyd Wright and you inherited one of his famous homes and somebody said you should donate it to the public because it’s an historic structure, you would say no. It just happens with King there is a sense that we all own him.”

Jones, of the King estate, said the family has not been reluctant to make loans. He points to an exhibit at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which includes the suit King wore when he met with President Lyndon B. Johnson.

“It’s extraordinary that anyone would make a claim that the family has been difficult regarding borrowing items of memorabilia when, in fact, the majority of memorabilia has been on loan,” Jones said.

Deborah Richardson, executive vice president of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, said she does not believe the lack of major King material will diminish the new museum. The museum’s purpose, she said, is much wider in scope, meant to cover the entire range of the African American experience.

“To me, that’s so much bigger and so much more important,” she said. “Dr. King, if you look at the whole arc of our experience, thousands of years before there were records of Western society, Dr. King and his work is just a blip.”

Source:  Museums Washington Post September 11 at 7:23 PM