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A Visit to Several Unusual Museums in the United States


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Welcome to American Mosaic in VOA Special English.

I'm Faith Lapidus.

Today, we listen to music from Kenna.

And we answer a question about marriage between people of different races.

But, first we tell about some unusual museums in the United States.

Unusual Museums

Americans love museums. We have art museums, history museums, car museums, train museums and space museums. Many are famous. Millions of people from around the world visit them each year. And then we have those other museums. The kind that make you ask, "Did they really build a museum for that?" Mario Ritter tells us about some of these unusual museums.

It may be yellow, brown, grey, mild, or hot and spicy. We put it on sandwiches, squirt it on hot dogs and even dip pretzels in it. No American picnic would be complete without mustard.

People in the town of Middleton, Wisconsin love it so much, they built a museum in its honor. The National Mustard Museum has over five thousand kinds of mustard from sixty countries. You can even have a taste and buy containers of mustard in the museum.

If you visit the Banana Museum in Auburn, Washington you could learn everything you ever wanted to know about bananas. There are almost four thousand objects in honor of this favorite fruit.

Another unusual museum is in Independence, Missouri. It has over one hundred fifty wreaths and two thousand pieces of jewelry made with human hair. Leila Cohoon owns the museum and says some of the objects are over one hundred years old. The human hair wreaths were considered pieces of art long ago.

If you are ever in Haines, Alaska you might want to visit the Hammer Museum. There you will find over one thousand five hundred different kinds of hammers. Dave Pahl started the museum in two thousand two. He says some of the hammers on display were used thousands of years ago by the ancient Egyptians.

And then there is the Twine Ball Museum in Darwin, Minnesota. It has only one object on display – what it calls the largest twine ball in the world. A man named Francis Johnson began winding twine, or thick string, into a ball in March of nineteen fifty. He wound for four hours a day for twenty-three weeks. The ball got so big, he needed a crane to lift it so he could wind some more. Mr. Johnson wound the ball for about thirty years. When he was finished, the twine ball was four meters across and weighed seven thousand nine hundred kilograms.

Or you could visit Barney Smith's Toilet Seat Museum in San Antonio, Texas. Yes, it is what you think it is! Mr. Smith says he has painted or decorated about one thousand toilet seats. Many of the seats have personal meaning to him. Some show his travels around the world.

Then there is the Museum of Sex in New York City. That museum has …sorry, we are out of time!

Interracial Marriages

Our listener question this week comes from Nigeria. David Odoviano wants to know about the history of interracial marriages in the United States, especially those between blacks and whites.

Marriages between people of different races were extremely rare in early American history. The first one on record took place in the state of Virginia in sixteen fourteen. A white tobacco farmer named John Rolfe married the famous Indian Pocahontas.

Interracial marriages were illegal in many states. Miscegenation laws made it a crime for people of different races to marry. The state of Maryland passed the first miscegenation law in the early sixteen sixties.

Charles Robinson is with the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. He is vice provost for diversity, director of African-American studies and a history professor. He has done extensive studies on interracial relationships and miscegenation laws.

Professor Robinson says the Maryland law carried a severe punishment for white women who married black slaves.

CHARLES ROBINSON: "It punished them by making them servants to the master of the slave man for the length of that man's life."

Professor Robinson says it is not clear when the first marriage between a black person and a white person took place. But he says it appears to have been sometime in the sixteen sixties.

CHARLES ROBINSON: "It's pretty obvious that blacks and whites had married by sixteen sixty-four in Maryland because that law was instituted as a reaction to white women marrying slave men. But no one knows actually who was the first person or people to do it."

At least thirty states had miscegenation laws at one time or another. Many of the laws remained in force until nineteen sixty-seven. That was when the United States Supreme Court ruled the laws unconstitutional in the miscegenation case of Loving vs. the state of Virginia.

At the time, Virginia was one of sixteen states that still banned interracial marriages. The Supreme Court ruling made the laws unenforceable. Still, several of the laws remained on the books for years to follow. In the year two thousand Alabama became the last state to withdraw its miscegenation law.

Since the ruling in nineteen sixty-seven, the number of interracial marriages has been steadily increasing. In the nineteen sixties and seventies, interracial marriages were fewer than one percent of all marriages in the United States.

In June, the Pew Research Center released a new report based on information from the United States Census Bureau. It said more than fourteen percent of all new marriages in two thousand eight were between people of different races or ethnic groups. This is more than double the rate in nineteen eighty.

Kenna

The music of Kenna is very hard to define. He calls it experimental. Author Malcolm Gladwell wrote about Kenna in his two thousand five book "Blink." Bob Doughty has more.

That was "Hell Bent," the first single from Kenna's two thousand three album "New Sacred Cow." It was his first album release. The album included everything from hip-hop, to rock, to pop to electronica.

Kenna Zemedkun was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He moved to Cincinnati, Ohio with his family when he was three years old. But he spent most of his childhood in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He became interested in music after hearing "The Joshua Tree" album from the rock band U2. He began to teach himself to play the piano.

Kenna released his second album in two thousand seven. It was called "Make Sure They See My Face." The single "Say Goodbye to Love" was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Urban/Alternative Performance in two thousand nine.

In January, the musician climbed to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. He did it to bring attention to the worldwide clean water crisis. He took a team of scientists, activists and celebrities with him. This was Kenna's second attempt to reach the top. It was the largest group ever to complete the climb.

Kenna will release a new album later this year called "Songs for Flight." Until then, we leave you with "Baptized in Blacklight."

I'm Faith Lapidus. Our program was written by June Simms and Jim Tedder. Dana Demange was the producer.

You can get transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our shows at voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA's radio magazine in Special English.


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