On September 24, 2016, thousands looked on as President Barack Obama commemorated the Grand Opening of The National Museum of African American History and Culture Museum in Washington, D.C. The celebration of the museum’s opening will take place over the course of three days, which will include musical and dance performances, spoken word, and two evening concerts. Passes to enter the museum are sold out for the opening weekend.
At the Grand Opening, President Obama took the stage to express the essentiality of the museum to African Americans. He stated, “This national museum helps to tell a richer and fuller story of who we are. It helps us better understand the lives of yes, the president, but also the slave. The industrialist but also the porter. The keeper of the status quo but also the activist seeking to overthrow that status quo.”
What many people don’t know is that the museum has been in the works for over a century. It was first proposed in 1915 by black veterans of the Civil War. However, it wasn’t until 1986 that Congress approved the construction of the museum. In 2003, Congress passed the National Museum of African American History and Culture Act which made the museum part of the Smithsonian Institution.
According to npr.org, more than $240 million was raised from donors such as Oprah's Charitable Foundation, Samuel L. Jackson and his family, the LeBron James Family Foundation, and many other organizations. The federal government also contributed $270 million.
Today the 400,000 square-foot museum stands tall, overflowing with centuries worth of black history and culture. It begins on the bottom level with slavery. As you move up in the museum, you are taken through the civil rights movement, and then the highest level features exhibitions dedicated to African American culture and literature. Hundreds of people are traveling from all over the country to view these breath-taking artifacts, such as a dress Rosa Parks made in the 1950s and a picture of Nene Leakers depicting an African American “Gesture of Dismissal.” The creators of the museum did not come to play!
During the Grand Opening Ceremony, Museum director Lonnie Bunch stated that the museum is a "clarion call to remember”: "To remember not just the well-known, but also those famous only to their families, whose lives in quiet ways shaped this nation. We remember so we can ponder the pain of slavery, segregation and second-class citizenry, but we also find the resiliency, the faith, the hope, the joy that is so much a part of the African-American community.”
The museum contains exhibits that depict how the African Americans have made it through a number of struggles. However, it is eminent that we acknowledge that the museum itself is an illustration of how far we have come as a people.
By Khila James, WSJU Radio Blogger