Monday evening, Michigan-based Khalid El-Hakim spoke with HipHopDX about founding the Black History 101 Mobile Museum. “I went to Ferris State University. One of my professors, Dr. David Pilgrim, he actually started a museum himself, the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia. It’s on the campus of Ferris State,” recalled El-Hakim. When I was a student, he would bring in these racist artifacts. We would have real deep discussions about race in America. It always sparked discussion among students. That’s what inspired me to start collecting.”
Khalid El-Hakim began artifact collection 18 years ago, in his first trip to the south. At a Tennessee gas station, El-Hakim noticed racist souvenirs, including a porcelain doll of a black child eating a watermelon. Items including this can be viewed in a recent Green Magazine piece [click here]. “This was about 1991. It was eerie and shocking to see this in the south. This was a trip.” Taking the doll, El-Hakim prompted a collection that now includes over 2,000 items for educational display.
“In many cases, people take these items and destroy them – especially the older items. Either what happens, if the ugly stuff doesn’t end up in museums, it ends up in private collections or [destroyed]. I collect it for the purpose of telling the story and sharing it with the public. History is important, because for years we’ve been told lies, we’ve been told a history of omission. People leave out parts of history. It’s my purpose and mission, as a teacher, to go out and fill in the voids that history has left out.“
The museum’s timeline spans from slavery to Hip Hop culture, with pivotal displays on the Black Power Movement, Nation Of Islam, Civil Rights Movement, as well as sports, literature and music.
Music is something that El-Hakim knows well. Presently, in addition to the museum, he is also managing Umar Bin Hassan, of seminal rap pioneer group The Last Poets.
“I’m using the museum to show that there’s a connection between The Last Poets, James Brown, Parliament Funkadelic, all the way up to current artists. History doesn’t stop. It goes all the way back to the drummers in Africa. Hip Hop, in a larger context, goes a lot further [that most of us realize].“
Previously, Khalid managed Proof‘s group The Five Elements nearly a decade ago. Towards the end of the slain Detroit emcee and D12 member’s life, El-Hakim returned as manager, and VP of Proof‘s label, Iron Fist Records.
Through this relationship, Proof was instrumental in purchasing some of the artifacts on display in the museum today. “There was a Ku Klux Klan auction in Michigan. [Proof] gave me $1,000 to go up to this auction; I was trying to get him to go with me. [Laughing]” El-Hakim further recalls, “I was the only brother in there, buying artifacts. I wanted to buy a robe, but somebody ended up paying $6,000 for a robe [of Robert Miles]. I ended up getting his personal scrap book [though], photographs [and a hood].” Like the dolls, El-Hakim says these items are significant. “This is evidence. This is proof that these dudes were as wicked as these history books sometimes tell us and sometimes don’t tell us.” “This was with the money P gave me. You can come to my museum and see [these items].” Professor Griff of Public Enemy also frequently works with the museum as a speaker and guide.
Presently, the theme of the present exhibit is called “And The Legacy Continues.” The display, emphasizing music to young people, includes rare letters, photographs and memorabilia of black music, including artifacts from J Dilla and Proof from the curator’s own collection. Upcoming exhibits are specialized to Black History Month and Women’s History Month respectively.
The dates have been announced for the tour, beginning this month:
January 19 University of Michigan MLK Day Celebration, Ann Arbor, MI
January 30 – January 31 George Washington Carver Middle School/University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
February 3 Marygrove College, Detroit, MI
February 7 Hip Hop Congress Midwest Summit(U of M), Ann Arbor, MI
February 13 Bradley University, Peroria, Illinois
February 16 Indiana University/Purdue University, Indianapolis, Indiana
February 19 Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights, Kentucky
February 23 – February 25 Portland Community College and Portland State University, Portland, Oregon
February 27 Coleman A Young Building-13th Floor, Detroit, MI
Lastly, the curator, teacher and manager spoke about the significance of The Last Poets appearing on the Common [click to read] and Kanye West hit single “The Corner.” “It definitely was a great nod. I negotiated that contract with Common‘s lawyer. It raised peoples’ consciousness and awareness about The Last Poets, and it’s a dope [song]. Anytime you can bring somebody like The Last Poets into now and make that connection, it’s a great thing, man.”