Bellingers visit Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History | News | The Press and Standard
by The Press and Standard | November 5, 2016 5:00 am
Last Updated: November 2, 2016 at 12:05 pm
By GEORGE SALSBERRY
Hurricane Matthew sent the Rev. Harry and Mattie Bellinger back in time.
When the Bellingers, residents of the Roadside area of Colleton County, learned that South Carolina officials were calling for an evacuation of the coastal areas, they decided to head north.
They packed up and left their home the morning of Oct. 5, headed for the Washington D.C. area.
“I spent 46 years of my life in the District of Columbia. I still have children and family there,” Bellinger said. “We decided to go to that area and wait out the storm.”
Once in Prince George County, Maryland, he added, “We decided it was a good opportunity to visit the new museum.” Their goal was to tour the recently opened Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The Bellingers were able to spend two days touring the massive museum. “We could not see it all in one day, we had to return for another tour.”
The popularity of the new museum, opened in late September, has resulted in museum officials requiring reservations that give viewers a specific time and day to come, and the reservations are already stretched into December.
Bellinger had an in. For 30 years he was employed by the Smithsonian Institution, and his retiree card allowed him to visit any Smithsonian museum at any time. “A majority of visitors don’t get that opportunity,” Bellinger explained.
The three below-ground floors contain most of the history, Bellinger said. “For me, the lower levels were the most impressive.”
“It was just amazing — there were some things I didn’t know about,” Bellinger said. One of those unknowns came when he learned about the green cards. African-Americans, if they were traveling, were given green cards. The card listed places where African-Americans were allowed to spend the night.
The visit to the historical exhibits also gave Bellinger to a chance to teach.
At one exhibit, the members of a school group were trying to figure out the purpose of one item. They were perplexed by an old-fashioned iron, the type placed on the stove and heated up to iron clothes. Bellinger explained how it worked. The museum, he said, “is very, very educational for our young people.”
“There were some exhibits I could identify with: the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. assassination, the riots, the tent city on the Mall.” He lived through those times.
Bellinger graduated from Colleton High School in 1967 and left for Washington D.C. He then joined the U.S. Marine Corp. After serving in the military, he returned to Washington D.C. and made it his home.
He could also identify with some exhibits from earlier times — the era his grandparents had lived through.
The Bellingers returned to Roadside on the evening of Oct. 11 and found their home survived Hurricane Matthew intact.
As they rode down U.S. 17-A, they saw evidence that fallen trees had blocked the roadway. They learned that the hurricane isolated Roadside, as fallen trees blocked the way to Yemassee and the way to Walterboro.