In my last post I wrote about the historic nature of this presidential election. Today I’m writing about another piece of history made during my time here in Washington. This past September 24th marked the opening of the National Museum of African American History & Culture. This museum was 101 years in the making.
For at least two weeks prior to the Opening, local news stations featured stories about every aspect of the Museum, including the long path to its establishment, the selection and perspective of its founding director, Lonnie Bunch III, lengths he and his staff went to identify and procure more than 30,000 artifacts, the testimonials from famous African Americans, the politicians and supporters, the donors, and even the public sentiment surrounding this exciting living testament to the African American experience, their suffering, perseverance, resilience, and successes.
In fact the tag line to the museum is: “A People’s Journey. A Nation’s Story.” It is fully both.
I was thankful that a colleague at work invited me to join her on a Thursday afternoon. I felt so lucky to have a timed-entry ticket; as of this writing, reserve tickets are completely sold out for the next five months. But if you’re willing to wait, you can get tickets.
The story starts in the lowest level of the building. Music prepares you for what you are about to see. You have to take an elevator. As you descend, you watch the years literally roll back in time as the years are painted on the walls in the elevator shaft. The story begins in Africa & Europe in the 1400s. The slavery exhibits were difficult. It is incomprehensible that human beings could be so cruel to other human beings for hundreds of years. And yet, these awful actions are part of our country’s history and need to be acknowledged.
But this amazing Museum represents so much more than suffering. It tells the stories of civil rights and the brave activists who risked reputation and personal harm to fight for equality. It tells the stories of African American accomplishments in every field. I was far too young to know then that a girl from my hometown of Brooklyn, NY had run for president in 1972: Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm! And what perfect timing that our first African American president would be part of this historic day, and that he and his family would be represented of course within the Museum’s walls.
I could go on and on about this Museum. We were there for 3 hours and were ushered out at closing time with the rest of the public that simply did not want to leave. I highly recommend a visit; I know I will be back myself!
Marianna Savoca, PhD., Director of the Career Center at Stony Brook University–State University of New York, is a Faculty Fellow this semester at the Business-Higher Education Forum.