Though many Milwaukee natives may not know it, our fair city can claim it has America's only Black Holocaust Museum. What exactly is the Black Holocaust? What is the museum all about? We sat down and had a conversation with Dr. James Cameron, the extraordinary man who founded the museum.
OMC: Tell us a little about yourself. Where you were born and raised.
JC: My name is Dr. James Cameron. I was born in 1914 in LaCrosse. My family moved to Birmingham, Ala., when I was four. We stayed there until I was 12, and then we moved to Kokomo, Ind. Then we moved again when I was 14, to Marion, Ind. At the age of 16, I got into trouble. Two friends of mine held up a white couple at gunpoint, and I was with them (though I ran away before anything happened). I was lynched on Aug. 7, 1930, in Marion, along with my two friends. The Ku Klux Klan mobbed the jail we were in and lynched all three of us. My friends were lynched with a rope, but I was lynched with a severe beating, so I survived. They were hung, but I was spared.
OMC: What happened to you after the lynching?
JC: I was sent to prison. My sentence was for two to 21 years, no less than two and no more than 21. See, after I ran away from my friends, they proceeded to rape the woman and shot and killed the man. I was found guilty of being an accessory. I had to spend a whole year in jail just waiting for a trial. At the end of two years, I went up for parole. There were six people on the parole board, and five of them wanted to let me go home, but one man wanted me to stay in jail. It had to be a unanimous decision, so I had to stay in jail. I spent the next two years being rejected for parole before I finally was released at the age of 21. I had spent a total of five years in jail.
OMC: I think a lot of people are unaware of exactly what Black Holocaust means. Could you explain it?
JC: It's a replica of the Jewish Holocaust. My wife and I went to Israel in 1979 with our church. I came back from that trip a spiritual man. We saw all of the horrible things that were done to the Jewish people and saw the gas chambers that were used. I came back emotionally disturbed. When we came back I knew that we needed a museum like this in America to show what had happened to black folks. It's the only black museum of its kind in the world. When people come in here, they are going to scream and be shocked. But it's something that they need to see, and I don't want people to forget. Now, some people wonder why I use the word holocaust, but that word doesn't belong only to the Jewish people. That word can be used anytime you try to get rid of a people. Millions of people were brought over from Africa and were worked to death.
OMC: Do you know how many people it was?
JC: The white man's figure is 25 million, but the black man's figure is 100-200 million. They were brought wherever slavery was tolerated. The bottom of the Atlantic Ocean is covered with bones of slaves that were thrown overboard.
OMC: Why did you choose to start the museum in Milwaukee and not somewhere else?
JC: One reason I started it here and not somewhere down south is because I am a Badger. I was born here and it doesn't matter where the museum is. We run across the same problem in all 50 states. Black people caught hell here just like they did in Mississippi and Alabama. Milwaukee alone is just about 50 percent African-American and we don't have a damn thing to show for it.
OMC: What do you hope this museum can achieve? What is your goal?
JC: To re-educate the people, all people. Black people are just as ignorant as white people. This doesn't mean that they are dumb and stupid, just ignorant. We are all ignorant about a lot of things, but we are not dumb and stupid. We just don't know, and the truth will set us free. We want to educate people and let them know that we are supposed to be one single and sacred nationality in our country. There are over 30 wars going on in the world today, and if we don't get our heads together and realize that we have the same enemy and the same interests, the powers that be are going to make mincemeat out of us. We've got our job cut out for us. The truth needs to be told, and once it is told and believed, then we can have a single and sacred nationality in this country. A lot of people go around and say they aren't racist, they're just pro-white. We don't need any pro-whites or pro-blacks or pro-browns. What we need is pro-Americans. That is all we need and the rest just keeps us divided.
OMC: Are you happy with how much progress the museum has made since you started it?
JC: I am ecstatic. This is beautiful. God has blessed me in so many ways. Every time we write in for foundation money, it comes in. People come here and I tell them about the museum and they are all willing to help out and give me money. It's amazing; I can't even understand it. I got this building from the city for one dollar. You have to have faith and believe in something. This is beautiful. I think life is what you make it. In December (of 2000), I got to eat dinner at the White House with the president. I am blessed in so many ways.
OMC: What goals do you have for the museum's future?
JC: Well, after I pass on, I hope that it will continue. Continue perpetually as long as America stands. This is something that will be here after I'm dead and gone. The theme of this museum is to broaden the horizons of people's minds. I want that to continue.
America's Black Holocaust Museum is located at 2233 N. 4th St. For more information call (414) 264-2500.