Smithsonian Institute exhibit on its way to Natchez

Published 10:14 pm Tuesday, September 1, 2009

NATCHEZ — How did we get here?

That question will be answered when the traveling Smithsonian Institute exhibit, “Journey Stories,” opens Saturday at the Historic Natchez Foundation on Commerce Street.

The exhibit is an interactive look at the role evolving mobility and transportation had in spurring the growth of the United States. The exhibit, sponsored by the Historic Natchez Foundation and the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, looks at immigration to the United States as well as migration within the states, said Mimi Miller, director of the Historic Natchez Foundation.

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“Everyone has a journey story,” she said. “How your family got here, where is your family from, there are all sorts of journey stories.”

The exhibit uses audio, images and artifacts to tell the individual stories. The exhibit tells stories of people coming to America in search of a better life, families relocating in search of a fortune, Africans’ journeys to America and American Indians being forced to move from their lands.

The traveling exhibit was secured through Mississippi Humanities Council and has been on display in other parts of the state,” Miller said.

“I was impressed with the exhibit because there is not much you can do with something that has to be taken apart and put in cases to make it not flat,” Miller said. “But this one has all the bells and whistles along with pamphlets and books and things that make noise.”

The exhibit will open with a free cocktail reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday at the foundation’s headquarters, 108 S. Commerce St.

The exhibit will be open seven days a week with each weekend having a series of themed events to give more insight into “Journey Stories,” Miller said.

The first weekend will feature Jewish journeys. Rabbi Uri Barnea will give a lecture at 7:30 p.m. Saturday about Jewish music at Temple B’nai Isreal.

The weekends that follow will feature war stories, family stories, African American journeys, transportation stories, balloon journeys.

“There are foot journeys and transportation journeys,” Miller said. “A journey is anything that takes you to another place.”

Miller said her hope for this exhibit is to get people talking about their history and family journeys. To do that, Miller has invited the schools to bring children to the exhibit.

“The thing the foundation is most excited about is having the opportunity to showcase a museum quality exhibit for our children,” she said. “Many of our children haven’t been to a proper exhibit.

“We hope that after they come here, they will begin thinking about their story.”

Miller said fourth-grade classes have already started scheduling field trips to the exibit.

“I can envision all the fourth-graders coming through here and pushing all the buttons at the same time,” Miller said. “It is going to be great.”

From Sept. 18 to 19, the weekend programming will center around family stories with a tour of the Natchez City Cemetery.

The next weekend, Sept. 25-26, stories of black Americans will be told through two lectures, an African art exhibit and a dinner concert with the Voices of Hope gospel singers.

“We have a tremendous amount of programming planned for each weekend,” Miller said. “We have co-oped with several different groups to offer a wide array of opportunities.”

Admission to the exhibit is free and all of the accompanying programs are also free.

While the Smithsonian exhibit focuses mainly on national stories, Miller said there are a number of journey stories that are unique to Natchez.

To tell those stories, the walls of the center hall at the foundation have been lined with black and white photos, postcards and objects special to Natchez.

Some are historic in nature and other are more modern, Miller said.

“Right now we have a 15-foot kayak waiting to be displayed,” Miller said. “The way I saw it the Phatwater Kayak Challenge is a journey.”

Miller said there will also be a hot-air balloon basket on display since one weekend of the exhibit coincides with the Natchez hot-air balloon festival.

The exhibit is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday through Oct. 20.

For a complete listing of weekend programs visit