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African-American history brought to life at library

OCEANSIDE — Walking into the community room at the Mission Branch Library on Feb. 8 seemed like a walk back in time. Visitors were greeted by Chuck Ambers dressed in a 10th Cavalry military uniform right out of the late 1800s, when African-Americans were first allowed to join the U.S. military as a segregated regiment called the Buffalo Soldiers. On the table behind Ambers sat a sword, bugle and paintings of long ago.
Ambers is founder and initial owner of the African Museum in San Diego Old Town, located at 2471 Congress Street. The museum houses 6,000 books, 2,000 videos, 8,000 slides, and numerous artifacts on African and African-American history that dates back 6,000 years.
The museum has focus areas on African-Spanish and African-Mexican history. Ambers is chiefly responsible for the research and archives at the museum. He traveled extensively to collected memorabilia and firsthand accounts of history.
The museum became a nonprofit this year. Now Ambers works there as an educational curator. He also takes African-American history lessons on the road to libraries and classrooms and instructs history classes at local colleges.
In his lecture at the Mission Branch Library, Ambers shared the story of William Cathy. She was an African-American woman who changed her name from Cathy Williams to William Cathy in order to register as a man and serve in the U.S. military in 1866.
More than a dozen people listened to the lecture. “It was really cool,” Zion Dunhan, 11, of Oceanside, said. “A lot of the stuff they don’t teach at my school.”
Ambers has been working for more than 40 years to bring more African-American history into schools. His first approach was to get accurate history into textbooks. “Certain things you didn’t see in the textbooks, they weren’t there,” Ambers said.
While Ambers is still not satisfied with what is represented in textbooks, his revised plan is to make information stored on the museum’s shelves available online. “The history has been here all the time, it’s nothing new,” Ambers said.
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