“These are American stories with an African American lens. The stories told here are not about the game-changers in history; it’s not about the Muhammad Alis. We showcase the courage and genius of every-day citizens.”
That’s how one of the lead managers for construction of the Smithsonian Institute’s first ever National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) described the museum’s approach in collecting more than 36,000 artifacts to tell a piece of American history.
On a sizzling hot day in July, I, and a dozen others, stood in front of the NMAAHC gazing upward at the architecture, a bronze sculpted fixture that rested like a crown on the historic grounds of Washington, D.C. We listened to our guides explain the symbolism of the building’s structure. We gave our word not to wander about to the finger-wagging tour guides on the precautions of entering a working construction site. We entered. Each of us grabbed a helmet and safety vest, and began the tour.
Here is an inspiring slideshow of the photos from our exclusive tour. We visually consumed all of the astonishing artifacts the museum obtained from the basements, attics, trunks and hiding places of collectors who preserved pieces of African American history.
But listen, I don’t want you to leave this blog without knowing and understanding this:
This moment is big! As in epic proportions BIG! This is Holocaust museums to Jewish people everywhere. This is a visit to Ellis Island where recorded signatures of 12 million immigrants who embarked on this new world for new life and refuge are inked, and finding your ancestors penmanship. This is living the dream and reliving the uncomfortable past simultaneously. This is the unearthing of undiscovered and forgotten gems of revolution, resistance, insistence and protests for human rights, equality and progression. This is the writing on the wall of a people’s shackled bodies, stifled voices and on-going struggle for liberty and justice for all. These are lives that mattered.
*Watch an interview with the museum's director as he tells the full story here.
I felt honored to be a part of this once in a lifetime moment. In 2003, when word on the street was that Oprah Winfrey and other wealthy contributors were banning together to begin the brainstorming, and, eventually, the creation of America’s first Smithsonian museum for African American history and culture, I didn’t believe it. I thought, “Opening in 2015? That’s too far away!” I doubted that it would ever happen. Now, one year later than the projected date, the National Museum of African American History and Culture will open on Sept. 24, 2016… the day before my birthday. This year, I’ll be celebrating two beautiful creations on my born day.
So make your plans to visit our beautiful and richly historic capital, Washington, D.C., and be sure to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It is absolutely a must-see among the Smithsonian’s national museums.