While in college in the 1960s, Macie Riddick was arrested for sitting down to eat ice cream at a whites-only section in Rock Hill. She spent about five days in jail.
Memories of the civil rights movement came back to the Huntersville woman on Saturday as she and her husband, Melvin, toured almost 500 years of African-American history and culture at the Harvey B. Gantt Centers new featured exhibition, America I AM: The African American Imprint.
What I saw today was a certain reflection of some of the experiences that I went through, Melvin Riddick said, but also it showed me the progress that has been made in this country.
America I AM, which opened Saturday, tells the story of pivotal moments in African-American history through more than 200 eclectic artifacts.
There are the weathered and rusty dungeon doors from Cape Coast Castle in Ghana, Africa, doors of no return where Africans were held captive until they departed on ships to the New World. Theres the key to Martin Luther King Jr.s jail cell and Rosa Parks fingerprint card from her arrest. Theres also the purple guitar that Prince played during the halftime show at a Super Bowl.
The exhibition overall seeks to answer the question posed by scholar W.E.B. DuBois: Would America have been America without her Negro people? Through a dozen galleries, it examines the ways African-Americans have contributed to the country in economic, socio-political, cultural and spiritual ways.
Charlotte is the eighth stop for this traveling exhibit, which was conceived by television personality Tavis Smiley.
In its entirety, the exhibition can fill 25,000 square feet. But here in Charlottes Harvey B. Gantt Center, it was customized to about 10,000 square feet.
We had to make some real difficult choices to take that 25 and squeeze it down to 10 or 12, so you got the best of the best of the best, Smiley said to the large crowd at the exhibits opening ceremony.
The loud, energetic crowd of attendees at the ceremony turned thoughtful and somber as they began their tour of African-American history, passing by the doors of no return. At least 250 people attended the exhibit on opening day.
Children stopped to ask their parents questions about what they were seeing.
This is going to be a transformative event for all of you, but particularly for the young people, said former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt in an opening speech.
Keondra Goins, 10, of Charlotte quietly read artifact explanations aloud to her mom, Kenya Clark.
Its a really big deal for us, as parents, to let our kids know basically where they came from where we came from and where were going, Clark said.
Though shes already aware of the history, Angie Ransom, 60, of Charlotte said seeing the shackles of slavery on display stuck with her. It was very emotional for me, she said.
Amid stories of slavery and segregation, there are also the stories of triumph in America I AM.
The exhibit celebrates key figures including President Barack Obama, music icons Stevie Wonder and Jimi Hendrix, and athletes Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali, among many others.
Weve been through a lot, Macie Riddick said. We survived. We are survivors and that makes us proud of our history and our culture.