[Blackstudies-l] The National Museum of African American History and Culture will be opened to the public on Sept. 24

Maria Lima lima at geneseo.edu
Wed Jul 20 09:46:16 EDT 2016

I remember when the architect spoke at a conference at the Library of
Congress, showing the plans for the site  I told him at that point that the
museum looked to me like the map of the belly of a slave ship, with layers
of human beings, but he dismissed my question.  I STILL THINK IT DOES.
What do you think?

Democrat and Chronicle
07/20/2016 - B04

BLACK HISTORY MUSEUM Smithsonian museum aims to link African-American past
and present

Jaleesa M. Jones



In the underbelly of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American
History and Culture looms an ominous, 21-foot-tall guard tower erected in
the 1940s to surveil the yard at Angola Prison, also known as the Louisiana
State Penitentiary. A gift from one of the most notorious maximum-security
prisons in the nation, the tower is a haunting reminder of a post-Civil War
campaign to incarcerate African-Americans on spurious charges.

"One of the most important stories we wanted to tell was the impact of the
criminal justice system on America," director Lonnie G. Bunch III said
during Monday’s media preview of the Smithsonian’s newest museum.

"Angola began as a slave plantation and evolved into a penal system. This
(exhibit) centers on the creation of the convict lease system where, after
slavery, in order to control African-Americans, they were arrested on bogus
charges. They were then leased out to companies, to the state, to do work.
So, even though they were free, it was still like slavery."

Bunch said aspects of the present criminal justice system reference that
history. His task is to make the connection clear when the museum opens to
the public on Sept. 24. President Obama will keynote the grand opening
ceremonies, 13 years after President George W. Bush signed legislation
establishing the museum, which tells the history of the United States
through the eyes of African Americans.

"By weaving in contemporary issues, our goal is to help the public realize
that ! this is not a place about yesterday," Bunch said. "It’s about
yesterday, today and tomorrow."

The contemporary 400,000square-foot structure, just across the street from
the Washington Monument, features a bronzepainted aluminum lattice exterior
that harks back to ironwork made by slaves in New Orleans and Charleston,

To further close the loop between past and present, Bunch said, the museum
will juxtapose traditional exhibitions with 134 media pieces that include
everything from slave narratives to accounts from Black Lives Matter
activists who protested policeinvolved shootings in Ferguson, Mo., and

According to Kinshasha Holman Conwill, the museum’s deputy director, those
media pieces are part of a collection of roughly 40,000 objects, 4,000 of
which will live in the museum. As of Monda! y, about 40% of the objects
were installed.

Highlights include a 80-pluston segregation-era Southern Railway car, so
massive that the museum had to be built around it. A Tuskegee Airmen
trainer plane, still protected in plastic, dangles over a ramp. Secret
treasures such as Marian Anderson’s 1939 Lincoln Memorial concert outfit
and August Wilson’s piano from Fences lurk in surprise nooks.

Throughout the building, there are "lenses," windows from which visitors
can see the White House, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, the Lincoln
Memorial, the National Archives building, the Capitol, the Thomas Jefferson
Memorial, and the National Mall, a place Bunch says "is sacred to African

Securing the space was a major win but Conwill says they haven’t d! eclared
victory yet, at least not financially. The $540 million constru! ction cost
was covered by Congress and donors, but "our goal now is to build an
endowment and build in major programming costs."

That fund will help ready features such as the museum’s Oprah Winfrey
Theater, intended to be used for conferences, concerts, film festivals, and
social justice programs.

"We’re not giving simple answers to complex questions. Our goal is to raise
issues," Bunch said. "We expect there will be difficult moments. We expect
there will be controversy. But what we also expect more than anything else
is learning and understanding and maybe a little reconciliation."

Top, the bronze-painted 400,000-square-foot structure sits on the National
Mall near the Washington Monument. Above left, the view from the fourth
floor includes "lenses" that look out on the White House and monuments. The
museum will tell stories of slavery, incarceration and the criminal justice
system in America, says director Lonnie G. Bunch III.

"This is not a place about yesterday. It’s about yesterday, today and

Lonnie Bunch III, museum director

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