Back in 2003, the US Congress decided to fund the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, naming Lonnie G. Bunch III as the director of the new 400,000-square foot building that would be located right on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Now, on September 24, the museum will finally open its doors, giving the public an up close and personal look at the history of slavery and racism in America.
For over 10 years, Bunch III not only had to raise $540 million and collect 37,000 worldly artifacts for the museum exhibition, he also had to think about how he would tackle the historical issues of slavery and racism, both of which would obviously play a major role in the museum exhibition. The director had to showcase the truthful, yet despicable sides of our history, but also wanted to praise the endless number of feats that were accomplished by African-Americans in the face of these great odds.
“It’s the most expensive, biggest museum devoted to people of African descent anywhere in the world, and that makes things complicated,” said Samuel Black, the former president of the Association of African American Museums.
It’s a conversation that still makes many of us uncomfortable today. Although a lengthy amount of time has passed since both slavery and segregation were considered acceptable in America, the brutal and sickening truth lives on in our history and still has a negative impact on our society in many ways. In order to have a honest dialogue about this history, but also celebrate the accomplishments of the African-American community, Bunch III choose to showcase two different sides of the same story.
After a decade of planning, Bunch III decided that he would interweave the anguishing tales of slavery and segregation with the triumphs that happened despite the racially biased system that has perpetually tried to keep African-Americans down. The museum will have a wide range of historical moments and artifacts, from an exhibit on slaves in 18th century rice fields to the birth of hip hop in New York City during the 1970s.
The museum opening will begin with a dedication led by President Obama, and will also be attended by former President George W. Bush. The gigantic exhibition will showcase more than 400 years of history, and comes at a crucial time where police brutality has brought these deep-rooted issues back onto the table. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture is already poised to be an extremely popular exhibition, as 28,000 free tickets for entry during the museum’s opening weekend were snapped up within an hour last month, and are currently not available until this coming November.