Smithsonian Museums’ Newest Member: African American Museum

The African-American History and Culture Museum is in the heart of D.C. tourism.

By Ramyia Mae & Kaitlin Joshua, JCamp Reporters

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Tourists walked briskly across the grass Thursday afternoon, directly in front of the Washington Monument. Most stared into floppy paper maps or talked with companions, but occasionally one would stop and gaze across the street at one of the most controversial buildings in the National Mall: the African-American History and Culture Museum, slated to open in late September.

“[It’s] futuristic, kinda like space,” Joeann Charles said. “It’s definitely fascinating. Draws attention.”

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The museum’s road to completion began in 1915, when black Union soldiers began advocating for a museum dedicated to African-American history. Congress rejected several proposals before success in the early 2000s. Many wonder if that century-long journey was a result of the museum’s subject.

Despite that hundred years, controversy arose quickly as people got a glimpse of what is to be the country’s largest African-American history museum. Many condemned the museum’s modern exterior, a stark contrast to the traditional architecture of the other buildings and monuments dotting the Mall. Despite naysayers, others had positive reactions to the nearly-finished museum.

AfAm#2“It’s not the prettiest, but it’s not ugly,” said Kavina Mahs, a young English tourist.

Beyond surface details, however, lies the racial implications of the museum both now and in the past. The question of whether or not the museum would have been constructed earlier had it not focused on a topic that makes many Americans uncomfortable is easy to answer for Mahs.

“[The museum] is a stumble forward in the right direction in that it lets people talk and educate themselves about a struggle that’s still very relevant today,” she said.

With highly publicized videos of police brutality circling social media and more voices joining America’s conversation on race, many think the museum is especially significant. “I think [the museum is] pretty important considering the Black Lives Matter movement and all that’s going on,” tourist Kiah Johnson said.

Charles, too, was enthusiastic for the museum’s opening, but warned against erasing these and other aspects of history that may make people uncomfortable. She was adamant that the museum showcase all aspects of African-American history rather than burying the ugly parts.

“Keep it raw,” she continued. “Don’t sugarcoat it. It was ugly but [African-American history] happened.”