By Jackie Hampton
Thousands of visitors are expected to attend the grand opening of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture Sept. 24; however, members of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, also known as the Black Press, were among other media groups privileged to preview the museum Sept. 14, in Washington, D.C.
More than 30,000 artifacts have been collected for the museum; however, about 3,000 were available for the preview of the exhibit. According to Lonnie Bunch, founding director of the museum, additional artifacts will be added to the exhibit on an ongoing basis. “This joyous day was born out of a century of fitful and frustrated efforts to commemorate African-American history in the nation’s capital,” Bunch said, referring to the museum’s opening. “Now, at last, the National Museum of African American History and Culture is open for every American and the world to better understand the African-American journey and how it shaped America,” Bunch said.
The 400,000 square-foot bronze structure costing $540 million sits on the National Mall adjacent to the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. and houses such artifacts as the coffin of Emmett Till, a teenager from Chicago who was brutally murdered in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman while visiting family members in Money, Miss.
As the centerpiece of the museum, the exhibition explores the story of slavery and freedom. Beginning in the 15th century with the transatlantic slave trade through the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, the exhibition uses personal stories to explore economic and political legacies of slavery for all Americans. Items such as Harriet Tubman’s shawl and hymn book, Nat Turner’s bible, shackles used for an enslaved child and a weatherboard-clad cabin used during slavery are all featured.
And then there is an exhibit of the inauguration of President Barack Obama, the first black president of the United States, and other Obama artifacts such as a pair of tennis shoes with a painting on the shoes of then Sen. Barack Obama with the political slogans “Yes We Can” and “Change.” The shoe painting, by artist Van Taylor Monroe, was created after Super Tuesday in 2008.
In the museum, you will find Michael Jackson’s hat and jacket from his “Victory” tour, Muhammed Ali’s boxing gear, Chuck Berry’s red Cadillac Eldorado, Carl Lewis’ Olympic medals and many more pieces of black history. Oprah Winfrey has a welcome theatre in the museum. Other famous personalities such as Richard Pryor, Redd Fox, Moms Mabley, Dick Gregory, Ossie Davis, James Meredith, Martin Luther King Jr., Fannie Lou Hamer, Congressman John Lewis and so many more have a presence in the museum.
Ronald Mason, who served as president of Jackson State University from 2000-2010, previewed the exhibit as well. Mason who is now serving as the ninth president of the University of the District of Columbia stated he was very impressed with the museum. He and his wife, Belinda, said they look forward to visiting the museum again. President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will attend the opening ceremony of the museum Sept. 24. They will be joined by former president George W. Bush and his wife, Laura Bush. Obama will deliver remarks during the opening ceremony.