Michigan Man’s Mobile Museum Brings Black History to Life

From inspiration to recoil, smiles to sighs and tears, the Black History 101 Mobile Museum takes visitors on a journey that is often difficult to traverse, interspersed with moments that display the best of African-American history and culture in the United States.

Khalid el-Hakim at a recent mobile museum presentation.

The brainchild of Kalamazoo resident Khalid el-Hakim, the museum boasts an award-winning collection of over 7,000 original artifacts dating from the slave trade era to hip-hop culture. He’s curated the collection over the past 26 years and it has traveled to 28 states so far.

“Martin, Motown and Michael” is an exhibit culled from his vast collection that el-Hakim recently shared with Blue Cross employees in Southfield, Detroit, Grand Rapids and Lansing during the company’s annual Celebrate Diversity month in August.

Posters advertising the public auction of slaves, as well as actual whips and chains used in their detainment were part of el-Hakim’s collection on display. Garments worn by the early Michigan Ku Klux Klan were laid out, as well as many 19th and 20th-century artifacts depicting crude stereotypes of people with African ancestry. Mementos from the Civil Rights era, including many Martin Luther King Jr. items, gave way to Motown-era records and Michael Jackson cassette tapes.

By shining a light on a wretched time in our country’s history, el-Hakim hopes to help people learn from past mistakes and understand some of its lingering societal effects.

“We didn’t create it, but how do we live in a society that produced that material,” el-Hakim asked.

Although many of the offensive items displayed were created more than a century ago, el-Hakim warns that we’re not a post-racial society yet. He used a candy wrapper from this century to make his point. It features the African-American Disney princess Tiana from “The Princess and the Frog” movie on the watermelon flavor side, while princess Aurora from “Sleeping Beauty”, who is depicted as Caucasian, is on the vanilla side. Whether an intentional slight or not, el-Hakim said that stereotypes and unconscious racial bias run deep and need to be called out.

“How does a corporation like Disney allow a product like this to come to the marketplace,” he asked. “Things like this happen.”

He said the continued push for racial justice and equity is a fight that everyone needs to be part of.

“What will people say about our generation years from now? What side of history do we want to be on,” he asked

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Photo credit: Julie Bitely

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  1. I had the pleasure of recently attending a “Lunch & Learn” presentation for the “Black History 101” Mobile Museum, at our office. The curator, Khalid el-Hakim, who indicated had a vast collection of artifacts, brought a large number of phenomenal items for display. It was an exceptional event and presentation given, and was well attended by a diverse number of employees. Many of us are looking forward to him returning again during the month of Feb. for Black History Month; and many other employees, after hearing about his collection, was disappointed that they didn’t get an oppty. to attend the event. It is definitely a “must-see”. I’m definitely looking forward to his return.

  2. I commend the effort and perseverance displayed by Khalid el-Hakim in informing us of our roots. It is so unfortunate the children in today’s society are not offered Black History courses. This would help provide a constant reminder of how far we have come by the help and grace of God. Still a LONG! way to go, but we’re making great strides in that direction. I would encourage those in charge to bring back all facets of history because it is the foundation which we build upon today. Our children need to be informed, encouraged and challenged to take opportunity to the next level. Knowing history can help spark some child that they can achieve anything that they put their mind to. The path to success is limitless and so should information. Their minds are brilliant and they should have the same exposure as others. One method of sending our message in full force is the dollar. Companies, corporations who condone and display biases should NOT be supported until equality is exhibited. Thank you again for reminding us that we must still stand up and speak out.

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