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Celebrate African American Holidays & Traditions

Misty Brown | 12/29/2008, 3:27 p.m.

The exhibition, titled €Jubilee: African American Celebration€ at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum (ACM), consists of priceless artifacts, documents, books, music, video, interviews, costumes, photographs and rare paintings by prominent artists as well as innovative installations from the 19th century and modern-day times.

€It reveals some celebrations that are no longer observed, some that are unique to specific regions, some that are specifically African American in scope, and others that incorporate a distinctive African American approach to traditional holidays observed by most Americans,€ Director Camille Diraud Akeju said.

The exhibit revealed facts like the first Black festival and tradition to take place in the U.S. was €Johnkankus€ or €Christmas Masquerade€ originated along the West Coast of Africa by slaves was named after King John Conny or King John Canoe (different spelling origins) a legendary African chieftain.

Black and White Southerners alike enjoyed the vivacious ceremony filled with music played on homemade instruments, singing, dancing, clapping and acrobatic moves with the grand leader and his court. After the Civil War, it became obsolete due to its association with slavery. Nowadays, it is known as Junkanoo and renowned in the Bahamas or Bermuda.

One of the honored guests, Negro Baseball League€s 89-year-old James Tillman, catcher for the Homestead Grays was thrilled about the historical impact.

€Outstanding. Back in my day, we never saw anything like this,€ Tillman said.

The €Weddings€ section featured a rare 1840s gown of a slave created by her mistress.

€I think the museum is fun. It included historic items from regular people including my mom€s [Judith Boatwright] crochet wedding dress that took my aunt nine months to design, create and make in 1996,€ said eight-year-old Jaleah who was visiting from Charleston, S.C. Her friend, 12-year-old Nailah Penic added, €I think this is the best exhibit ever. It makes you feel proud of your heritage.€

Scholar Walter J. Leonard, fellow of University of Oxford, spoke about the psychological impact on the viewer.

€This is an excellent starting point to reach out beyond this community. By knowing the history of our people, we will know where we€ve been and what we are doing, therefore, we can make a good prediction for our future.€

The show runs through Sept. 20, 2009. Celebrate the holidays with numerous family-filled programs and a sleuth of calendar of events. Call 202-633-4820 (Mon-Fri) or 202-633-1000 (Sat. & Sun.) or visit www:anacostia.si.edu for more information. The Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum is located at 1901 Fort Place, Southeast, D.C.