A museum in the middle

Irony of ironies … the new Birmingham Negro Leagues Museum had its limited grand opening this past Saturday — fittingly, on the most American of holidays, the Fourth of July — and I actually passed through B’ham twice over the holiday weekend when Lori, Eli and I traveled to Chattanooga for a getaway. But alas, I haven’t been able to see the museum, but I’m hoping to make a road trip sometime later this summer to see it.

But here’s an article on al.com about the grand opening that came out on Saturday:


The article itself is very complimentary and positive. From what I can tell, the local Birmingham media have generally by supportive of the project while trying to stay objective and pointed when reporting on the unfortunate road bumps the project experienced along the way, including funding issues and construction delays.

But what’s certainly most distressing about this article is the comments section, which is filled with shockingly ignorant, vitriolic and even vicious criticism of the museum and its purpose — to educate people about and open their minds to the long-hidden, overshadowed history of African-American baseball in Birmingham and the rest of Alabama.

The project was an extremely challenging labor of love on the part of everyone involved, and many of the comments — most of them, by the way, made by anonymous cowards who use screen names to hide their identities while spewing their idiocy and hatred — expose the writers’ fundamental and distressing misunderstanding of history and the sociopolitical and racial dynamics of this country.

It’s certainly fair to question and criticize many of the basic facets of the story, especially the amount of public funding given to a project and whether that project will be a success in a city facing fiscal and social challenges on a constant basis. The issue of whether taxpayer money has been and/or will be wasted on a project with an uncertain level of future success is a quite valid one to explore in the public discourse.

But to question the actual concept of a museum of dedicated to the history of black baseball — and to educating people able to institutional and systemic racism that kept that history in the shadows for so long — is just plain ignorant and borderline hate-filled, and such comments are not even worthy of discussion to a certain extent.

Some people — like the ones who use Confederate flags as their online icons — will simply never be willing and/or able to pen their minds to the true history and human dynamics of the world around them. They will forever be shrouded in willful ignorance and fear-driven bigotry, and there is very little that can be done to change their deep-seated attitudes and worldviews.

But fortunately, there are many people out their who are willing to at least be open-minded about the historical concepts and truisms that are underlined and analyzed by the new museum and other projects like it. It’s these people that can be helped by the museum’s mission of education about and honoring of a hidden history and the figures that comprised and shaped it.

And, in a way, it’s the open-mindedness and curiosity of this segment of the population upon which the fate and future success of the new facility hangs, because it’s these folks whose attendance will be most crucial to the ultimate success or failure of this extremely worthwhile and noble project — and whether or not taxpayers have funded a lasting testament and memorial to history and social evolution.

There will always be people — such as, hopefully, the readers of this humble blog — who will eagerly and enthusiastic flock to the museum. And there will always be the bigoted and close-minded who will never be willing to set foot in such a facility, no matter what the inducement or argument of open-mindedness.

Much like a presidential election, its the denizens of folks in between who will be the swing vote, so to speak. They are the ones who must be reached in this endeavor, because it’s their hopeful, eventual support that will determine whether this grand enterprise will succeed or fail. I pray that they can be swayed.

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