This collector turned his hobby into a passion and purpose – and ultimately a museum

Written by Mark Ray

As a museum of historical past, Roots 101 is as a lot in regards to the current and the longer term as it’s in regards to the previous.

This text has been reprinted with permission from

When the Lamont Collins household moved to the Louisville, Kentucky neighborhood within the Nineteen Sixties, he felt he had fallen behind enemy traces (though he was not bodily harmed). He survived and thrived largely because of his athletic skill, which later earned him a spot on the College of Louisville soccer group. “I used to be all the time one of the best athlete, so the children all the time put me on their group,” he says.

Like sports activities followers of all ages, Collins and his teammates liked arguing over one of the best skilled athletes—Sandy Koufax vs. Bob Gibson in baseball, Bob Cousy vs. Invoice Russell in basketball, hometown legend Paul Hornung vs. Jim Brown in soccer. Collins tended to aspect with black gamers like Russell in these arguments, and his white mates would generally return days later and say issues like, “I talked to my dad, and he stated Invoice Russell was fairly good.”

“So I found, at 9 or ten, how vital it was to inform our story,” Collins says.

Black storytelling is precisely what Collins, now 63, does as founder and CEO of Roots 101 African-American Museum in downtown Louisville. “The explanation I name it Roots 101 is as a result of in larger training the primary class you’re taking is a 101,” he says. “On the Museum, it’s an academic journey from Africa to America.”

Learn: An rising various to February’s Black Historical past Month: Black August

discovery journey

The very first thing guests see upon getting into the museum is a group of centuries-old sculptures from the Kingdom of Benin, lots of them depicting royal figures, interspersed with work of African royalty by native artist Sandra Charles. The position is deliberate—and never simply because the sculptures are the museum’s oldest artifacts.

“I inform younger those who we’re the descendants of kings and queens who have been enslaved in America,” says Collins. “And that’s a game-changer for a black man like me, as a result of as a child, all we heard was that we have been slaves and solely slaves. However what I inform younger males is we have been bulldozers earlier than bulldozers, jackhammers earlier than jackhammers and engineers earlier than engineering levels; we constructed this place “.

From the Benin bronzes, guests transfer on to newer, much less impressed artifacts: a “colourful antechamber” banner atop a Accomplice flag, a statuette that is a racist caricature of a horseman, and a field of tobacco whose identify contains racial slurs. (Tobacco curly conjures up photos of naturally black hair.)

“You see photos of black folks going from human to ape and ape,” says Collins. “It was designed to offer that mentality that we have been lower than human.”

One other exhibit, known as Massive Momma’s Home, reveals how black households have lengthy challenged hateful stereotypes and narratives. A mid-century front room duplicate, crammed with images of members of the family who served within the navy, went to varsity, or entered the ministry.

“That is how we realized our historical past; that was our affirmation as a result of it wasn’t put into the books,” Collins explains.

Different galleries depict the contributions of blacks to the humanities and athletics. He stated, “The Nice Equalizer is about black sports activities; it is about black males who have been first thought-about males once they began enjoying sports activities,” he stated.

However even these galleries remind guests of racism and racial violence. In a show that evokes Billie Holliday’s anti-lynching tune “Unusual Fruit,” a hangman’s noose hangs in entrance of a mirror, difficult guests to think about themselves within the story.

See additionally: “Black Historical past is American Historical past”: How one can Educate Your self and Work for Racial Equality

protest to advance

Whilst you can view Roots 101 as a historical past museum, Collins is as within the current and future as it’s prior to now. That is illustrated by the exhibition “Protest for Progress”. At one finish of the room are benches from a lunch desk the place native teenagers staged a sit-in in 1968. On the different is a coffin constructed by a bunch of black and white Louisville teenagers after Breonna Taylor was shot in 2020. The coffin is roofed with the names of victims of violence, courtesy of Emmett Teal to Taylor herself.

Collins recalled: “After they gave it to me, they stated, ‘Mr. Lamont, what are you going to do with it? ‘” “I put a mirror within the casket. And the explanation I put the mirror within the coffin is as a result of I would like you to see your self. I would like younger and previous to see themselves in historical past.”

The truth is, difficult guests is what Roots 101 is about. Collins’ aim is to assist folks grow to be higher ancestors. “If all of us grew to become higher ancestors, we’d be in a greater place and a greater nation.”

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Flip artifacts into motion

Regardless of his clear imaginative and prescient, Collins by no means deliberate to begin a museum. For many years, he was only a collector – albeit one with a powerful assortment of artifacts.

The primary merchandise on this assortment got here courtesy of his mom, who labored on the native Armed Forces Examiner’s Workplace. When younger Cassius Clay – the longer term Muhammad Ali – confirmed up on the workplace, she acquired an autograph for her son. “It was my first,” Collins says. “And I have been hooked ever since.”

He first acquired the concept for a museum in 2018, when he heard on NPR radio a few California collector, Oran Z, who was on the lookout for a house for about 14 or 15 railroad vehicles stuffed with black historical past from his personal museum. Collins shortly contacted the person, who impressed him to begin Roots 101. “Though he did not ship something, it actually gave me power as a result of I knew I had no less than 5 railroad vehicles from historical past,” he says.

In 2021, Roots 101 was named one of many ten winners of a USA At present Readers’ Alternative Award for Greatest New Attraction. It additionally acquired plenty of consideration that summer time when people singer James Taylor paid tribute to the museum throughout a live performance at close by KFC Yum! Middle (YUM). (He visited earlier than his efficiency.)

Whereas Collins loved this fame, he’s extra thinking about connecting with younger guests. The truth is, the most recent exhibition, known as Black to the Future, options images submitted by a number of of them. “You see photos of youngsters dressed as docs and legal professionals, aspiring to be who they wish to be,” he says.

“There may be an African proverb that claims, ‘The best king vegetation timber, realizing he won’t ever sit underneath them,’” he says. “I plant timber: timber of information, timber of unity, timber of affection, timber of prosperity. I can’t dwell to see shadows. However I’ll plant timber sufficiently big to forged shade.”

Mark Ray is a contract author who has written for Scouting, Eagles’ Name, Presbyterians At present, Kentucky Houses & Gardens, and different publications. He has additionally written, edited, and/or contributed to dozens of books for the Boy Scouts, Presbyterian Church, and United Methodist Church.

This text is reprinted with permission from (c) 2023 Twin Cities Public Tv, Inc. all rights are save.

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01-24-23 0501ET

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