By Amber Broaden, News Editor
Posted 10:17 PM EST, Fri., Sept. 23, 2016
After the nation’s highly, anticipated wait for another prominent archive of African-American collection, the Smithsonian will finally open its National African-American History and Culture Museum on Saturday, September 24, its 19th addition to the Institution.
— Smithsonian NMAAHC (@NMAAHC) September 23, 2016
“People are calling me from Japan, Nova Scotia, France, [etc.] who are planning to come to the opening,” said Dr. Frank Smith, director of the African-American Civil War Museum, during a press conference for the grand opening of NMAAHC. “This is a great opportunity for the Smithsonian and the city to bring people together to see this landmark,” he said.
The NMAAHC is the only museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African-American history, life and culture. The opening of the museum will also showcase seven new exhibitions in the National Museum of American History.
“I am excited to see the intersection of history and culture of the Black experience because it is full of robust art that makes me feel connected to my childhood,” said Michelle Sanders, junior social policy and African American studies major at Northwestern University. “I do not want to see a linear representation of Blackness.”
There are many museums around the United States that express Black life and culture, such as the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago, the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York, New York. But the NMAAHC’s founding director had a different perspective for the image of NMAAHC.
Founding Director Lonnie G. Bunch III identifies the museum’s mission as inspiring “a broader understanding of African American history and culture in a national and international context.”
The museum did not own a single artifact when Bunch began, so he instituted a program called “Saving African American Treasures,” a take on the PBS favorite “Antiques Roadshow.” Now, the museum stands tall with 85,000 square feet of exhibition space, nearly 3,000 objects, 12 exhibitions, 13 different interactives with 17 stations and 183 videos housed on five floors.
“Opportunities to expose Africans and Black people to their experience in America is a great opportunity to enhance identification and preserve historical understanding through cultural representations and values.” said Dr. Mario Beatty, an Africana Studies professor at Howard University.
Bunch has also established the program called “Save Our African American Treasures” which will feature day long workshops that will enable visitors and participants to meet with conservation specialists and historians.
“It’s gives the African-American community a sense of culture, community, and liberation again,” said senior psychology major Iyahna Smith. “I think it is essential that we have an attraction like this to bring our friends, families and organizations to.”
As the opening day approaches, D.C.’s hosting committee is interested in sharing their festivities and even partnering with organizations who are celebrating the opening of the museum as well.
“History has been written for us for a long time, so this is a great opportunity for Black people, and other organizations to explain it the right way,” said Rahman Branch, executive director of the D.C. Mayor’s Office of African-American Affairs. “This museum is commencement, the start of something great, to do something better.”
With other museums on the mall, such as The National Museum of the American Indian, and the Holocaust Museum, both representing their unique experiences, the inclusion of an African-American History and Cultural museum seemed long overdue.
”The NMAAHC has been an idea whose time has now come,” said Beatty. “Museums represent a relationship between the people’s identity and their memory.”
NMAAHC was established by Act of Congress in 2003, and has then led to more efforts to promote contributions of African-Americans in realms of resiliency, optimism, and spirituality.
Unlike the Holocaust Museum and The National Museum of the American Indian, two museums that show an unapologetic look of the history of suffering those two ethnic groups endured, the NMAAHC is taking a more muted approach.
Reports from The New Yorker claim that the artifacts alone will not be able to speak for themselves, but the meaning of the museum will be based on interpretation. Meaning that the museum represents memory and how objects are linked in time and space.
“This is not a Black museum. This is a museum that uses one culture to understand what it means to be an American,” said Bunch, “This is, in some ways, the quintessential American story. This is our story.”
This raises the question if Black culture identifies with being American. As the museum seeks to quantify the African experience in America, it will compartmentalize the image at which one sees Black history and its variations of culture.
“This museum will demonstrate the African experience in America, but the experience is not just ‘from slavery to freedom’,” said Beatty. “African people did not come to this shore of America as empty vessels, we came with our own humanity, spiritual cosmologies, beliefs.”
Under Bunch’s leadership, the NMAAHC released its most recent exhibit “Through the African American Lens: Selections from the Permanent Collection,” on May 8th. This exhibit provides insight into the personal lives of those of African descent living in America.
This is just one example of how the museum is built on contributions of those whose lives it intends to put on display, further adding to the museum’s mission of cultural enlightenment.
“What the African experience really reveals is the mirror to America. It’s the mirror of not what you say you are, but what you really are,” said Beatty. “This country doesn’t like to deal with who it really is. And to deal with the African experience in this country is to deal with the reality, not the rhetoric.”
This public institution will be having its grand opening September 24, with President Barack Obama ringing the bell in honor of the opening of the NMAAHC. The museum anticipates at least 100,000 attendees.
— Smithsonian NMAAHC (@NMAAHC) September 23, 2016
The NMAAHC will hold many items and treasures that will be of great exposure to its attendees, and will be a thoroughly depict the transition of African identity on American landscape.
For more information on the opening of the museum, please visit: https://nmaahc.si.edu/visit/opening.