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Cultural Artifacts, History and Mothers

Dr. Tonita Ross-Dozier, Program Director for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) PWC Digital Learning Lab, gave a Zoom talk to members of the Middle Peninsula African American Geneological and Historical Society (MPAAGHS) yesterday during their monthly meeting. The title of the talk was “Using Digital Learning Labs and Resources to Explore African American History and Culture.”

She started the meeting by asking us: Think about a cultural artifact from your family. Describe it.

Members were asked to put their responses into the chat box, and they varied from a midwife’s baby blanket to ceramic bowls, to bricks used by slaves to build plantations, to plates. My choice was an early 19th century black lace fan that was given to my mother by Aunt Maude Washington, my grandmother’s first cousin and the lady who raised my mother, as she could have no children herself. More than a decade ago, my mother asked for it to be framed. I had it framed for her on Mother’s Day.

I pass the framed fan on the wall of our modest home every day. Whenever I pass it, I think of my mother, Grace Sullivan, Aunt Maude and Sunday dinners - gravy boats, pot roast, baked potatoes and cloverleaf rolls. Happy Mother’s Day to all of the mothers out there, including those whom we cherish through the tangible memories that they have behind us.

For more information about the NMAAHC Digital Lab, here is the link to follow: A People’s Journey, A Nation’s Story | National Museum of African American History and Culture (

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