It has been nearly a century in the making, but the Smithsonian Institute’s long- awaited National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) will break ground on Wednesday, Feb. 22 as part of the commemoration of Black History Month.
The NMAAHC is the Smithsonian Institution’s 19th museum and the first to be built on the National Mall. It officially opens in Fall 2015.
Dr. Lonnie Bunch, the museum’s founding director, explained its purpose and promise. “The museum has to be a place that helps people remember stories that they think they know in new ways,” Bunch said.
“This will be a place that celebrates Martin Luther king Jr., Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth, but it will also be a place that will explore the stories that you don’t know; the enslaved woman who got up every day and fed her kids and made sure that field didn’t strip her of her humanity.
It’s the story of the family that left Mississippi for the South Side of Chicago in 1913.
It’s the story of an array of people, including my grandmother, who took in laundry so that her children wouldn’t have to do that.
“In essence, this is a museum that has to allow America to confront its tortured racial past,” he continued. “It will be a place that will force you to cry over the story of enslavement. But it will also be a place that will allow you to find the joy that is within the African-American community. “It’s important that it will use African-American culture to understand what it means to be an American. It reflects the African experience but tells the story of the American experience. America’s identity is not complete unless it is understood through the lens of African-American culture. This is an international experience,” he said.
The museum will offer unique exhibits that highlight the African-American experience on a personal level. Some of the artifacts include a Jim Crow-era rail- road car that visitors will be able to enter and see the luxurious accommodations for white patrons and the benches for Black riders; shackles, including some for children; and Harriet Tubman’s shawl and hymnal.
“Its goal is to educate and engage to make Americans better, to help America close the greatest chasm that divides us–the chasm of race,” Bunch said.
To learn more about the new Museum of African American History and Culture, become a member. To make a donation, visit www.nmaahc.si.edu.