Keepsakes help tell African American story

PSYCHOLOGIST Patricia Heaston of Chicago has spent decades collecting articles left behind by past generations of African Americans to further her study of how black children develop their self-image.

But it was not until January that Heaston discovered the historical significance of two of these items: a white cap once worn by a Pullman Co. porter and a pin bearing the image of a black woman. That’s when she brought the cap and pin to the inaugural event of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture’s ongoing program “Save Our African American Treasures” at the Chicago Public Library.

There, Heaston discovered that the white cap was rare -- most were black or blue -- and that porters who wore white tended only to prominent travelers in private train cars. She also learned that the face on the pin was Madame C.J. Walker, whose hair care products made her the first female African American millionaire.

Now, L.A.-area residents will have a chance to have experts from the Smithsonian and the California African American Museum review their keepsakes when the program comes to downtown’s Japanese American National Museum from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday.


Up to 200 people may reserve in advance to bring up to three small personal items for review. Those who want their items reviewed must make reservations by e-mail to or by calling (888) 249-8033; reservations are not required for those not wishing a one-on-one consultation.

Lonnie Bunch, director of the Smithsonian’s African American museum, said that professionals will not determine monetary value. “It’s about historical worth,” the executive says.

In L.A., Bunch said he hopes visitors will bring items that illuminate the California dream that brought many blacks to the West,

including railroad tickets, posters encouraging migration, letters and film industry contracts.