The weekend of the 24th and 25th of September 2016 was a historic one; as the National African American History Museum opened in Washington D.C to an estimated 20,000 visitors. The opening comes after years of preparation and careful curation to appropriately capture the impact that African Americans have had on the United States and vice versa. Opening ceremonies included speeches from President Obama, Former President G.W. Bush, Will Smith, and Oprah Winfrey. President Obama rang the bell to mark the opening of the meaningful museum with 4 generations of the Bonner family. To put in perspective how much of a landmark decision it was to include this family: the Bonner family included the daughter (Ruth Odom Bonner) of a once enslaved person. It was not long ago that this young nation enslaved human beings through the transatlantic slave routes.
Take a tour courtesy Associated Press
This marks The Smithsonian’s 19th museum in Washington D.C. and looks vastly different than its limestone counterparts- the $540 million building is a 3-tiered, crown-inspired design that rises into the sky and disperses the sunlight through 3,600 bronze-coloured panels, reminiscent of 19th century ironwork created by New Orleans enslaved peoples. The African American History Museum is the first of its kind (Smithsonian) to be opened without a donated collection. Most of the 37,000 objects- about 3,000 of which are on display- come from individuals and families, and news publications such as McClatchy DC are describing the curation as ‘America’s Front Yard.’
Former President G.W. Bush, who signed the legislation to begin work on this museum, said: “A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them… This museum tells the truth: that a country founded on the promise of liberty, held millions in chains.” The museum travels through different disciplines or facets of life such as sports, art, and law- showcasing the familiar and rarely heard stories of African Americans in these fields. Uneven bars from Gabby Douglass’ Olympic debut, music from hip-hop maverick J-Dilla, and television footage from VH-1’s The Real Housewives of Atlanta are all featured in the museum.
President Obama remarked: “Perhaps [the museum] can help a white visitor understand the pain and anger of demonstrators in places like Ferguson and Charlotte… it can also help black visitors appreciate the fact that not only is this younger generation carrying on traditions of the past, but within the white communities across the nation, we see the sincerity of law enforcement officers and officials who, in fits and starts, are struggling to understand and are trying to do the right thing.” Indeed, the museum opening comes at an interesting time in the wake of more publicized deaths at the hands of police officers. From coast to coast, black citizens are jarred from the senseless killings of unarmed people that look like them- and day in and day out black people are expected to keep on living their lives as if they are not systemically targeted. The issue of police accountability and brutality are not the entire picture; to be sure, these issues are symptoms of a much larger issue in America. The issue of inequality across racial groupings is historically based and rears its ugly face every day. Like the President commented: it is teaching-spaces like the black history museum that are aimed at making the ignorant, aware and the aware, conscious of the work to be done.
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