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National Women’s History Museum Displays First Free-Standing Exhibit In 25-Years

D.C. Councilmember Brooke Pinto, Dr. Kendra T. Field, Dr. Sherie M. Randolph, Susan D. Whiting, Donella Brockington and Richard Reyes-Gavilan. Photo Courtesy of Lisa Helfert.

The National Women’s History Museum hosted its grand exhibition opening of Black feminists in Washington, D.C., and their influence on national policy, titled “We Who Believe in Freedom: Black Feminist D.C.,” at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. Curators described it as the museum’s first free-standing exhibit to debut in its 25-year history.

To close out Women’s History Month, the National Women’s History Museum bought this exhibit because it highlights the contribution that many Black feminists in the D.C. area made toward history. 

The grand opening of the exhibit began with remarks from exhibit curators Dr. Sherie Randolph and Dr. Kendra Field, Richard Reyes, the executive director of the D.C. Public Library, Susan Whiting, the chairwoman of the National Women’s History Museum’s board of directors, and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who was also featured in the exhibition. The remarks were followed by a ribbon-cutting ceremony signifying the opening of the exhibit. 

Holmes Norton was one of many Black feminists whose stories were included throughout the exhibit. She shared her history fighting for the residents of Washington, D.C., along with the importance of the “We Who Believe in Freedom: Black Feminist D.C.” exhibit.

“As a third-generation Washingtonian, the political rights of D.C. residents are deeply personal to me, but more important are core democratic civil rights and racial justice issues. The struggle for civil and human rights for all Americans has been the central theme of my own professional life,” Norton said. 

Discussions regarding the “We Who Believe in Freedom: Black Feminist D.C.” exhibit began as far back as two years ago, according to Randolph, the exhibit co-curator. Randolph described the museum as an online interactive museum since its founding in 1996. The “We Who Believe in Freedom: Black Feminist D.C.” exhibit had a large team geared towards making the exhibition come to life. 

“There were over a hundred people working on this exhibit. We had to interview people to collect their stories and it was a huge effort,” Randolph said.

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Along with being a co-curator for the exhibition, Randolph is a historian and professor at Georgia Tech University who specializes in gender and ethnicity issues and researched U.S. politics and policy, current board member for the National Women’s History Museum and a graduate of Spelman College, an all-women’s HBCU. 

“We knew we wanted to do something current, especially because of the Black Lives Matter campaign that was happening around this time,”  Randolph explained. 

Randolph also explained how she personally spent many hours working to get the exhibition started. She described her interest in the project and why it was important for individuals to be able to see this type of exhibit. Randolph also expressed an interest in curating another exhibit in the future. 

“D.C. is an untapped story that we try to put together to highlight powers and institutions like Howard University. People will see over a hundred years of Black feminists like Mary Tredwell and others. There are multiple similarities to actual police violence and Black people fighting for change demonstrated throughout this exhibit,” she said.

We Who Believed in Freedom: Black Feminist D.C. is set to remain in Washington D.C. for viewing until Sept. 15, 2024. However, Randolph mentioned that the vision is that the exhibition will be able to inspire other cities to develop similar demonstrations of Black history. 

Last fall, The Hilltop reported on the National Women’s History Museum’s partnership with the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library to present the Glass Ceiling Breaker sculpture of Vice President Kamala Harris. This was a preview of the We Who Believe in Freedom: Black Feminist D.C. exhibition, highlighting the contribution of women in history. 

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“The work of the women featured in this exhibition, including our amazing congressional delegate Holmes Norton, really represents some of the best of our history as a city and as a country, and will serve as inspiration to all of us moving forward,” Brooke Pinto, the councilmember of Ward 2, said. 

“What makes this exhibit so vitally important is that not only does it uplift the stories and contributions of so many women, but it really centers them, and that is far too rare and incredibly needed,” Pinto continued. 

Howard students included in the We Who Believe in Freedom: Black Feminist D.C. Photo courtesy of John Kendrick.

Copy edited by Nhandi Long-Shipman

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