Black his­tory mu­seum pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion

The Oakdale Leader - - PERSPECTIVE -

WASH­ING­TON (AP) — In its first year, the Smith­so­nian’s new black mu­seum has be­come the na­tion’s top tem­ple to black­ness, an Afro­cen­tric shrine on the Na­tional Mall where peo­ple of all races, col­ors and creed are flock­ing to ex­pe­ri­ence — and leave be­hind for pos­ter­ity — the highs and lows of African-Amer­i­can life in the United States.

“This has be­come more than a mu­seum. This has be­come a pil­grim­age site,” said Lon­nie Bunch, found­ing di­rec­tor of the Smith­so­nian Na­tional Mu­seum of African Amer­i­can His­tory and Cul­ture, in an in­ter­view with The Associated Press.

The na­tion’s first black pres­i­dent, Barack Obama, opened the new Smith­so­nian to a stand­ing room-only crowd on Sept. 24, 2016, with the ring­ing of a church bell. Since then, the Smith­so­nian’s 19th — and so far, most pop­u­lar — mu­seum has only be­come more beloved. Free ad­vance timed tick­ets sell out months in ad­vance and peo­ple line up out­side the doors ev­ery morn­ing in hopes of snag­ging rare same-day passes.

To cel­e­brate the one-year an­niver­sary, the mu­seum ex­tended its hours this week­end so more peo­ple could get inside to see ex­hibits de­signed to take visi­tors through African-Amer­i­can his­tory in this coun­try: from slav­ery, on the lower level, to a re­pro­duc­tion of Oprah Winfrey’s tele­vi­sion set up­stairs and ar­ti­facts from Obama’s first pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

Ground for the $540 mil­lion mu­seum was bro­ken in 2012 on a 5-acre tract near the Wash­ing­ton Mon­u­ment. Con­struc­tion was com­pleted in 2016. Mil­lions of donors con­trib­uted $315 mil­lion in pri­vate funds ahead of the open­ing.

Nearly 3 mil­lion peo­ple have vis­ited in the first year to see ex­hibits rang­ing from the glass-topped cas­ket used to bury lynch­ing vic­tim Em­mett Till to a fe­dora owned by late pop su­per­star Michael Jack­son and a slave cabin from Edisto Is­land, South Carolina. “We ex­pected 4,000 peo­ple a day,” Bunch said. “We get 8,000 peo­ple a day, so I can’t com­plain about a thing.”

The mu­seum and its ex­hibits are still chang­ing and evolv­ing. For ex­am­ple, some con­ser­va­tives com­plained there was orig­i­nally no men­tion of the Supreme Court’s sec­ond African-Amer­i­can jus­tice, Clarence Thomas, any­where in the mu­seum. There is now, in a new Supreme Court ex­hibit, Bunch said.

And they’re still col­lect­ing and eval­u­at­ing ar­ti­facts from around the coun­try for in­clu­sion in the mu­seum, from slav­ery ar­ti­facts to items from the re­cent Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment. And peo­ple are al­ways will­ing to give, Bunch said.

Much of the ma­te­rial inside the mu­seum comes from inside peo­ple’s homes and per­sonal col­lec­tions. Ac­tress Pam Grier told the AP in an in­ter­view that she had sev­eral pieces of her movie wardrobe from her ex­ten­sive ca­reer that she planned to do­nate to the mu­seum soon. Bunch, when told, im­me­di­ately started mak­ing plans to con­tact Grier.

But just as im­por­tant as the ex­hibits are the emo­tions and the mem­o­ries the mu­seum evokes, Bunch said. Wan­der­ing through the mu­seum, he can of­ten see grand­moth­ers ex­plain­ing the Jim Crows South to chil­dren, and fa­thers and sons talk­ing about the joys and hor­rors of grow­ing up in a seg­re­gated United States.

“Be­cause you have these col­lec­tions, it al­lows peo­ple to open up to share sto­ries to find mem­o­ries. I’ve heard many times peo­ple say, ‘I for­got, but once I saw a seg­re­gated door or once I saw that wash­board it brought back those mem­o­ries,’” Bunch said. “So what we wanted has hap­pened. This mu­seum has hu­man­ized his­tory.”

Photo con­trib­uted

Smith­so­nian’s black his­tory mu­seum

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