Smithsonian Celebrates African American Life

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  • While the building excitement for the 2015 opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) may seem a long ways off, it is nowhere near as long as the wait for the groundbreaking that took place in February.

    The museum, which will be located on the National Mall between the Washington Monument and the National Museum of American History, had been on the drawing board since World War I, but was much delayed by disputes over the vision and purpose of the museum, and finally approved in 2003.

    Its completion in 2015 is scheduled to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act and the 150th anniversary of the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery.

    During a speech in April on the challenge of building a national museum, Lonnie Bunch, founding director of the NMAAHC, said the museum “is not an attempt to create an African American museum by African Americans for African Americans. It really has to be, as part of the Smithsonian, a museum that shapes us all. In some ways the challenge of this museum is to realize that when people look and think about core American values of spirituality, of resilience, of optimism, where better to look than within the African American community?”

    Bunch, an accomplished and widely published historian and curator, has covered topics from the black military experience to the impact of politics and funding on American museums, and worked at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History from 1989 through 2000.

    While the painful and challenging episodes in black history will be included in the museum, there also will be a celebration of African American life and community.

    “It also has to be a place that allows you to find the joy that’s in this community,” Bunch said in April. “…it has to be a place that allows you to understand, from an insider’s perspective, what this community is and what it tries to do…We have to create a museum that uses African American culture as a lens to better understand what it means to be an American.”

    Among the artifacts that will find a home in the museum will be the Spirit of Tuskegee, Funkadelic’s Mothership and items from TV’s “Soul Train.” In addition there will be a youth gallery, the first ever in the Smithsonian Institution, devoted to children ages 2 to 10 years old and a classroom to teach significant moments in African American history, using the latest cutting edge technology.

    The museum also will promote a “Save Our African American Treasures” program that will teach people to identify and preserve items of historical and cultural significance tucked away in their attics, closets and basements of their homes. Participants can reserve in advance to bring up to three personal items for a 20-minute, one-on-one professional consultation with experts on how to care for them. There have been events in Dallas, home to the Tom Joyner Morning Show,  and Atlanta, Charleston, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Detroit, Los Angeles and Topeka, Kansas.

    Anyone interested in becoming a charter member of the museum or other ways of getting involved may visit nmaahc.si.edu/GetInvolved.  
     

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