Seattle Culture

Clearing Up Misperceptions about Juneteenth

Delbert Richardson’s traveling museum seeks to educate, inform

By Rob Smith June 18, 2024

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This article originally appeared in the July/August 2024 issue of Seattle magazine.

Delbert Richardson wants to set the record straight.

Richardson is the founder of the American History Traveling Museum: The Unspoken Truths, a traveling and online museum that showcases thousands of artifacts focusing on African and Black history, with an emphasis on enslavement in the United States.

Delbert Richardson is the founder and curator of the national award-winning American History Traveling Museum: The Unspoken Truths. 

Photo courtesy of American History Traveling Museum: The Unspoken Truths

The museum, which he founded in 2005, was on display at Juanita High School last weekend for a daylong celebration of Juneteenth, a national holiday on June 19 declared by President Joe Biden in 2021 that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. The museum contains four sections: Mother Africa (highlighting the contributions Africans have made throughout the world); American Chattel Slavery; the Jim Crow era; and Still We Rise, described as “everyday items African Americans have invented or approved on.”

A display of African cultural artifacts and photographs titled "Mother Africa" aims at clearing up misperceptions, featuring images of people, traditional masks, statues, and a book on African spirituality, all thoughtfully arranged on a patterned cloth.

The Mother Africa section of the museum showcases contributions Africans have made throughout the world.

Photo courtesy of American History Traveling Museum: The Unspoken Truths

Juneteenth — also known as Emancipation Day or Freedom Day — celebrates June 19, 1865, the day Union troops landed in Galveston, Texas, and announced the end of slavery in accordance with the Emancipation Proclamation. As Richardson says, however, it’s not that simple. Though President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, enforcement depended on the Union army’s advance. Many enslaved people in remote areas like Texas remained unaware of their freedom.

The first Juneteenth celebration began in Texas in 1866, when African Americans organized several community and educational events.

The museum depicts history as it happened, and is sometimes at odds with what most Americans are taught. Richardson says several important facts are often glossed over.

Most Americans, Richards, adds, don’t know that The Emancipation Proclamation, for example, applied only to people in Confederate states, not those enslaved in Union-held territories. They weren’t freed until the 13th Amendment. Most American also don’t realize that more than 90 Black men received the Medal of Honor for their service in the Civil War, or that the “Butler Medal” also recognized Black men for their service. During the battle of New Market Heights (in Virginia), Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler commissioned his own medal and personally awarded it to his Black regiment in honor of their bravery.

“We’re not taught that,” Richardson says. “There’s this cloak of ignorance around American history that are lies or history being glossed over. I tell people all the time, ‘don’t believe anything I’m telling you. Look it up.’ My work is around providing information through a different paradigm.”

Richardson has devoted most of his energy to the museum since 2016, when he retired from his job as a wine and beer distributor.

Many of the museum’s artifacts and photos are chilling. Various restraints reveal the horrors of enslavement. One picture shows a crowd of white people milling around a lynched Black man as a little girl smirks at the camera just feet away. Others cite the accomplishments and inventions of African Americans that have been largely ignored in history books. The various artifacts in all four sections provoke guilt, shame, rage, anger, wonder, and discovery.

Richardson often works with school districts and teachers, and the vast majority of his business comes via word of mouth. He is developing a virtual platform where schoolteachers and can log onto his website, pay a fee of a few hundred dollars, and receive lesson plans with artifacts accompanied by Richardson’s storytelling.

Mr. Delbert Richardson speaks to a group of young children at school, clearing up misperceptions about Black history.

Richardson’s work primarily targets K-12th grade students.

Photo courtesy of American History Traveling Museum: The Unspoken Truths

He also does summer programs called Junior Storytellers in collaboration with public libraries.

“Really, to me, the magic of my work creates this healthy space for sometimes critical conversations that we normally don’t have,” Richardson says. “The goal is to create this sense of belonging in terms of identity.”

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