A museum celebrating black history and culture will soon be gracing Washington’s National Mall and taking its revered place among the many other museums honoring America’s diverse population. In the works for a century, the preliminary clearing of the site has already begun. Slated for completion by 2015, some $500 million has been allotted for the project with half being paid by the government and half by privately raised funds.
Since 1991, a Korean War monument, a Second World War monument and a memorial to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as well as a National Museum of the American Indian and a National Holocaust Museum all have taken their rightful place in the mall, but up until now there has been no museum honoring the legacy of African Africans.
Such a museum would mark probably the last in the Smithsonian complex but it is far from the least. Controversial for the very nature of its painful legacy of slavery and bigotry, the issue of race is still a highly sensitive one. Sadly, racism still rears its ugly head, albeit maybe not so high, even in the face of an Obama presidency.
The first attempt to establish an African American museum dates back to 1915 when a group of African-American veterans campaigned for a memorial. In the face of Jim Crow laws and the aftermath of the racist silent movie classic The Birth of a Nation, which glorified the Ku Klux Klan, 1915 wasn’t the year earmarked for the realization of this American dream.
Other attempts followed and failed, including one after the passage of the landmark 1960s civil rights legislation. Congress gave the go-ahead for the museum project in 2003. A director was appointed and a spot selected which is barely 100 yards from the 550-foot-tall, white marble Washington Monument, which is the National Mall’s centerpiece.
In the words of Lonnie Bunch, the museum director:
“This will be a national museum telling an American story… a story that affects all Americans, explaining not just how America shaped blacks, but also how blacks helped to shape America… It will show how America is a work in progress, how the civil rights struggle has been going on ever since we’ve been a country…”
The museum will follow the course of history from the terrible bonds of slavery to the civil rights movement. It will focus on the monumental achievements of blacks in American culture, art and sports.
The museum collection already consists of 11,000 artifacts, either bought or donated, and it is hoped that number will double before the opening.
It is time to pay homage to an American populace that has suffered the unique scars of the institution of slavery and has risen like a proud phoenix from the ashes of hatred, ignorance and intolerance.
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