Texas Ballerina Donates to Smithsonian Institute National Museum of African American History and Culture

Among the thousands of artifacts and items inside of the Smithsonian Institute National Museum of African American History and Culture will be several exhibits with Texas ties.

The museum is 13 years in the making, and will hold items that date back to the 1850’s to present day. There are bibles, drawings, dresses like the one sewn by Rosa Parks and Lena Horne’s “Stormy Weather” green velvet gown, musical instruments, sheet music, quilts, photographs, and Newspaper Clippings.

The museum will give visitors a sensory detailed experience through African American history, family, literature, military, music, politics, segregation, slavery, religion, and civil rights, arts, and culture.

There are several Texas connections. Lauren Anderson, who was the first African American female principal ballerina, has donated her ballet pointe shoes. Anderson, who is from the Third Ward community in Houston, started dancing when she was in grade school.

“The Nutcracker was the first ballet I saw,” she said. “I wanted to be the Sugarplum Fairy since I was 7-years-old. My first role was a ginger cookie. I remember coming off the stage and looking back to see this woman in a pink tutu and I wanted to be her,” she said.

Years later, Anderson would get the chance to dance in her dream role as the Sugarplum Fairy in the Nutcracker with the Houston Ballet Company.

“Back then they had a giant plum, and the plum turned around and I appeared and the audience gasped... and, I knew something was going on, but I just kept dancing. My parents, who were in the audience, later told me after the gasp they were whispering, because they had never seen a black ballerina before. That was 1983,” said Anderson.

Since that moment she has danced on stages in four continents, throughout several countries.

“I was Alice in Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella in Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty in Sleeping Beauty, I was Cleopatra, and the lead in Swan Lake… I mean there were so many. I was given so many opportunities by Ben Stevenson (Artistic Director of the Houston Ballet). He took a big, because no one was doing that,” she said.

Her Cleopatra costume will also be donated, including play bills from past performances. “It’s humbling, to know that my crinkled up brown pointe shoes will be preserved in the Smithsonian is too big for me to wrap my head around. Hopefully other little girls will look and think ‘I can do that too’,” she said.

Anderson paved the way for other dancers, like Misty Copeland (who is the first African-American principal dancer at the American Ballet Company. Anderson currently teaches at the Houston Ballet, throughout North Texas, and around the world.

There are other exhibits with Texas ties:

Carl Lewis: While attending University of Houston, Lewis won 10 World Championship medals and 10 Olympic medals (9 of which were gold). The track star won gold in four consecutive Olympic games. He has donated 160 items, including all of his medals, uniforms, and shoes.

Mae Carol Jemison: Physician and NASA Astronaut. Jemison was the first female African-American astronaut to travel into outer space.

Charley Pride: Charley Pride was the first African-American country singer. Pride currently resides in Dallas.

To see a complete list of Texas connections inside of the museum and for more information CLICK HERE.

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