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National Museum of African American History and Culture Seeks "Treasures" in Topeka

WASHINGTON, DC.- The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture will co-host two weekend programs to help northeastern Kansas-area residents identify and preserve items of historical and cultural significance tucked away in the attics, closets and basements of their homes. Presented in collaboration with Washburn University in Topeka, the event will feature presentations, hands-on activities and preservation tips.

The program will take place Saturday, Aug. 14, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday, Aug. 15, from noon to 5:30 p.m. at Washburn University’s Memorial Union, at the intersection of SW 17th Street and SW Jewell Avenue in Topeka. Free and open to the public, the event is the seventh in a series from the museum’s signature program “Save Our African American Treasures: A National Collections Initiative of Discovery and Preservation.”

Participants from all over northeastern Kansas can reserve in advance to bring up to three personal items for a 20-minute, one-on-one professional consultation with experts on how to care for them. The specialists will serve as reviewers, not appraisers, and will not determine items’ monetary values. Objects such as books, paper and textiles no larger than a shopping bag can be reviewed. No furniture, carpets, firearms and paintings will be reviewed. Those wishing to have items reviewed must make reservations by e-mailing or by calling toll free (877) 733-9599. Reservations are not required for those not wishing a one-on-one consultation. Additional information is available online at

“We are extremely proud to bring ‘Save our African American Treasures’ to Kansas and Topeka in particular,” said Lonnie G. Bunch, founding director of the museum. “We encourage people to become aware of what they have, to protect it and to preserve it so the story of African Americans in this country can be told. Nineteenth- and 20th-century objects—family photographs, military uniforms, farm tools and wedding dresses—can help tell this story for future generations; if we do not act now to preserve these items, the tangible evidence of a critical component of American history will be lost.”

“It is a privilege to host ‘Treasures’ at Washburn University,” said Jerry B. Farley, president of the university. “The university was established in 1865 as Lincoln College. The choice to honor the nation’s 16th president reflected the progressive ideals of the school’s founders who upheld the tenants of civil liberty and who were considered progressive at the time by admitting African Americans and women as students. I am pleased Washburn will have a role in this effort to preserve a part of American history.”

Kansas’ contribution to African American history is significant. As a “free state” it played a major role in the abolitionist movement and was the site of the Pottawatomie Massacre of 1856, led by John Brown. That was followed by the Exodus of 1879, also known as the Kansas Exodus, the mass migration of blacks to Kansas from southern states after reconstruction. These migrants were called “Exodusters.” In the 1880s blacks bought more than 20,000 acres of land in Kansas, and several of the settlements founded at the time still exist today, such as Nicodemus, founded in 1877. In the 20th century, Kansas City was instrumental in the development of America’s classical music—jazz, and “Treasures” host city, Topeka, became known worldwide for the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education. It is the artifacts of this rich history that “Treasures” seeks to preserve.

The “Treasures” program includes the following sessions:

Preservation Presentations: Informal basic preservation sessions will take place during the day. One will focus on textiles, a category that includes cloth dolls, flags, hats, clothing, lace, quilts, needlework and table linens. The session on photographs and paper will inform participants on simple inexpensive techniques to keep their family Bibles, historic pictures and important documents such as diplomas and wedding licenses safe from deterioration.

Hands-on Preservation: Participants are invited to learn how to properly store letters, pack garments and prepare photographs for preservation storage and presentation.

Oral Histories: Participants may record a brief personal memory, a family story or a memory of a historical event. Family members are encouraged to interview each other.

Future events will be held in Detroit; Jackson, Miss.; and New York City. “Treasures” has been made possible by a grant from the Bank of America Charitable Foundation. The grant also supports the pre-design and construction of the museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., scheduled to open in 2015.

Washington | National Museum of African American History and Culture | Lonnie G. Bunch |

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