Headragged Generals in the Museum, Aleia Brown

Headragged Generals in the Museum


Alice Walker’s poem Women describes our ancestors as “Headragged Generals,” who “knew what we must know without knowing a page of it themselves.” It reminds me that black women have always been our leaders, and curators of knowledge – even before they had access to museums and libraries, or the formal education to work in them.


This poem gives me strength when I map out my purpose and career in museums. I earned a B.S. in History from Coppin State University’s Honors College, where I had the privilege to learn from black women historians whose brand of history was always public, always engaging, and always useful for our community. After finishing my masters, I had the amazing opportunity to be the curator of the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center in Wilberforce, Ohio when it reopened in 2013. Now I am ABD and working as a visiting curator at the Michigan State University Museum.


Regardless, I’ve always aimed to keep the Headragged General alive. My way of combining 21st century tools and museum practices with the spirit of my ancestors materializes in two projects that I co-lead #museumsrespondtoferguson (with Adrianne Russell) and #BlkTwitterstorians (with Joshua Crutchfield).  #museumsrespondtoferguson is a Twitter chat pushing museums to address Ferguson, and more broadly issues of race inequities in and outside museums. #BlkTwitterstorians connects, supports, affirms, and carves out public space for black historians on Twitter. Both projects are especially important in this Age of Black Lives Matter. There is an insatiable hunger for black history and culture. Black liberation does not exist without communicating with the past. In every iteration of the Black Freedom Movement, black museum professionals have had an incredible responsibility to document and interpret our history for present and future generations.  Thinking about this responsibility strengthens my commitment to being a leader in the museum field.


Dr. Aleia Brown is a graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, where her studies focused on 20th century African-American history and material culture, Brown uses quilts to understand how Black women interpret the Black Freedom Struggle. Prior to her doctoral studies, she was the curator at the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center. Part of the team that helped reopen the museum in 2012, she curated the exhibition How I Got Over. Ms. Brown holds a MA in Public History from Northern Kentucky University, and a BS in History from Coppin State University.
She was a visiting scholar at the Michigan State University Museum during her doctoral studies at Middle Tennessee State University.  She is also the co-founder of hashtags and monthly conversations #MuseumsRespondtoFerguson and #BlkTwitterstorians. Currently she is the Program Manager at the Humanities Action Lab.

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