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Folklife in the Museum: A Nation of Nations

In 1978, A Nation of Nations was the venue for five programs during the Festival.

Ellis Island and immigration Immigration continues to be an important part of American history. In 1978, 24 years after Ellis Island closed its gates, approximately 400,000 people would immigrate to the United States. Festival programming explored who these new immigrants were, and why they had come. During daily workshops at the Ellis Island bench, visitors could listen to and speak with Festival participants who came to the United States after 1945 from Czechoslovakia, Greece, Hungary, Mexico, the Middle East, and Vietnam. Participants spoke about life in their homelands, their journeys to the United States, and their years as Americans, and visitors heard the personal histories of people who contribute not to a "melting pot," but to a nation of nations. Their narratives reminded visitors - whether their ancestors walked across the Bering Sea land bridge, sailed on the Mayflower, survived in steerage or in the bellies of slave ships, or flew across an ocean - that all Americans belong to a community of immigrants.

Family folklore Here, visitors could discover and recognize their own particular traditions, the homebased folkways that decorate life and make it meaningful. A team of folklorists interviewed Festivalgoers about their own family customs, sayings and stories, and also about the memories sparked by the exhibition, A Nations of Nations. Workshops offered suggestions for collecting visitors' own family folklore and ideas for printing or mounting a family history, including free guides and discussion of interviewing techniques.

Dunham School To continue to present the shared traditions of the American public school, the 1978 Festival invited a former Dunham pupil, and five teachers and students from the Washington, D.C. area, one of whom attended and taught in a one-room schoolhouse in rural Virginia. During daily workshops, they shared their school experiences with the audience and encouraged visitors to talk about their own school days. Special afternoon activities featured lessons in the museum's Dunham schoolroom, presentations of children's folklore, and various lessons taught by Festival participants.

Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters The first ever black labor union, the Brotherhood merged in 1978 with the Brotherhood of Railroad and Airline Clerks. To mark the passing of this historic union, the Festival featured a group of sleeping car porters, men with stories to tell, experiences to unfold, skills to describe, and history to unveil. They were presented as more than a unique part of labor history, but instead as national resources who carried with them an experience of black struggle in America.

Wheelwright A wheelwright from Franklin, North Carolina was joined by his apprentice for daily demonstrations and narrative workshops.

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