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The Art of Collecting Things Africana
2/5/2014 4:41:32 PM

By Hakim Abdul-Ali

It’s that time of the year in the nation’s African-American communities where celebrating “our” great achievers’ accomplishments takes place. I really love this occasion and all of the other eleven months of the year, because it’s a entrancing time to never, ever forget that learning about Black “Our-Story” is a diligent journey for the self-absorbed student of knowledge to learn more about the Black experience in every sphere of existence. For more than two decades I’ve been reporting on issues relating to advancing the collection and the preservation of anything that relates to the Black “our-storical” experience. To say that I am and others who, like me, are fanatics about this cultural acquirement endeavor is a misnomer.

For people like me who collect, there’s a driving, innate ardor about collecting any source material or document, etc., pertaining to any part of the Africana dimension. That passion for studying, collecting and conservation of “Things Africana” has to be fueled by our committed pedagogic disciplines in acquiring said things “By any means necessary,” as the great martyred Afro-American hero Malcolm X once said.

During Black History Month, the noble struggles of past and present African-Americans for collective equality and self-respect are touching insights into the significant characteristics of an inimitable culture of ebony folk. Because of that factor, I’ve always held myself rationally accountable, within my own understanding, to learn as much as I can about the Motherland of all unquestioned “hue-manity” and of all of her kindred scattered “colored” folk dispersed throughout the Diaspora. It’s an ongoing merit of honor.

“The Art of Collecting Things Africana” is a concentrated pastime of cultural perpetuation that’s special to many thousands of like mind-minded collectors from throughout this country and beyond. And let me tell you precisely, in case you didn’t know it already, collecting anything today relating to Black people and our history is “big” money to some “hue-mans.” From the serious, private collector, like yours truly, who has been collecting for over fifty years, to the casual collector of an Afro-centric icon every now and then, Black Memorabilia collecting is one of the hippest crazes in the antique markets and collecting arenas. It’s a continuing fixation that drives serious and misdirected collectors to look for that next find to add to his or her collection.

The list of items that titillates collectors’ mind-sets and desires could range from collecting rare books, pieces of art, vintage magazines, period furnishings, musical related items, posters, autographs, political placards to sporting and cinematic artifacts, e.g., and this is only a small sector of valued “Things Africana” to collect. There’s no end to the many Afro-sundry segments of amassing things relating to the diverse cultures and heritage of descendant African peoples throughout the universe to collect.

Collecting “Things Africana” is “Black ‘Our-Story’ ” personified to me and others of this maintenance breed. We’re all challenged to remember what our ancestors went through for us to be where we are now, and no absent minded naysayers of negative appreciation of “Things Africana” will “his-storically” or systematically turn aware and prideful ebony souls away from our passionate intellectual collecting vocations. This calls for commitments of the highest explorative discipline from us all every day of every year as we continue in this restrained hunt for the retrieval of (all) things pertaining to the preservation of “Things Africana.” This is marked by our humble, and many times unknown efforts to preserve and maintain “Things Africana” that are pertinent to knowledge of our individual familial and greater outer “Black ‘Our-Stories.’ ”

Renowned Black memorabilia collector of “Things Africana” Curtis J. Franks, Sr., curator and facility manager at the College of Charleston’s Avery Research Center for African-American History and Culture in Charleston, South Carolina, offered the following insight on the importance of collecting and preserving the Black Experience. Mr. Franks said via a recent telephone interview, “Collecting Black historical and memorabilia items is an integral part of what I term is attaining a larger and comprehensive education of who we are. This is tied to an insatiable desire to acquire knowledge of one’s legitimate ethnic history, especially as it relates to the Black experience.

“It (should) remind African-Americans, in particular, of the continuing relevance and importance of reclamation, reconstruction, recollection, redemption and resurrection. In conclusion, collecting any and everything about the Black experience allows one to speak truth to others and one’s self about the power of one’s own inherent intellectual ethnic pride.” As this learned scholar and committed collector from the C of C has said, it’s crucial for African and African-American artifacts to be collected and preserved. Collecting “our-story” mustn’t be shoved to the dust bins of yesteryear’s academic pursuits and oblivious forgetful remembrances.

In the Akan (African) language there’s an ancient gem of wisdom that states that “in order to go forward, one must never forget where he or she comes from.” That memorable and “our-storical” maxim is right-on even with today’s ever-pressing need to educate the Afro-American masses about the need for community unification and to renew an interest in serious Black History and African Studies at all educational levels.

Objectively speaking, that includes many culturally disinherited “colored” folk from some of our locales, who are also a part of the seemingly increasing number of disinterested Afro-Americans in the preservation of “Things Africana.” It’s a total mental shame and a didactic waste.Remembering the aforementioned quote from the Akan language for a stone, cold moment and what it meant, I say that if you don’t look back at your heritage’s past with prideful remembrance, you’ll never (successfully) be able to advance in the future. In my view, that’s pretty clear for me as an American of color to see. Is it for you?

Mr. Franks and other known, recognized, celebrated and unheralded collectors and preservers of “Things Africana” obviously understand the Akan language grouping’s message. In purely symbolic educational syntax, I believe that this motto says that it’s very important for all Afro-descendant folk to know that “to whom much is given, much is expected.” My mother used to say that expression to me all the time as I grew from boyhood to manhood, and it included her home enforced, disciplined study of Black History, or Negro History, as it was called back in the day. My dad also cultivated “The Art of Collecting Things Africana” in our home because he collected Black sculpture and art works, and we were surrounded by African and African-American books and other artifacts.

I’m forever indebted to my parents for the discipline that they showed me in helping me see firsthand that Black Studies is a far reaching, everyday educational learning experience. They knew that it’s not a one-time thing that is only recognized or experienced during the shortest and coldest month of the Gregorian year. Do you? I hope that this month is one that will serve you well as you add to your Black “Our-Storical” home library. Knowledge is powerful—but only if you pursue and preserve it. Each one should teach one about maintain “Black ‘Our-Story.’ ” For today and always, have a good time preserving “Things Africana,” and that’s, “As I See It.”

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