The National Museum of African American History and Culture highlights the AFRO for all of the success and achievements they have accomplished throughout the years. (Courtesy of AP Photos)

By Kara Thompson,
AFRO MDDC Intern

The National Museum of African American History and Culture highlights the AFRO in their newest online exhibit, “Making a Way Out of No Way.” The exhibit studies the way Black people have navigated and overcome racism and discrimination while also seeking the freedom to have control over their lives and communities.

“In this exhibition, we highlight strategies that African Americans used to craft possibilities in a world that denied them opportunities—to ‘make a way out of no way,’” said NMAAHC curator Kathleen Kendrick in a press release about the exhibit. “In re-curating this exhibition for the Searchable Museum, we were able to preserve the fundamental thematic framework of ‘Making a Way Out of No Way,’ while expanding on content presented in the museum and also including entirely new stories only available through the online experience.”

The idea for an online museum has been around since at least 2018, when Fearless CEO Delali Dzirasa said they got involved in bidding to be a part of the project. The first digital exhibit, launched in the fall of last year, was worked on for around a year before its release. 

“The National Museum of African American History and Culture was –even pre-pandemic – thinking about ways to expose more people to the African-American story in general,” said Dzirasa. “How do you curate an experience where people are able to interact in a way that is as meaningful but different than what you might expect online?”

Accessibility was a huge part of wanting to offer an online version of some museum exhibits. Dzirasa said it was important for people who do not live near the NMAAHC museum to be able to experience the exhibits, but also for people to be able to explore topics and artifacts at their own pace and on their own time.

Michelle Adekolu, the project leader from Fearless who has been working on the development for the Searchable Museum, thinks that the fact that the exhibit is digital and accessible makes it a lot more interactive for audiences. 

“In the new exhibit “Making the Way Out of No Way,” we released the timeline component, or the timeline feature, where folks are able to really navigate either through the year or through [a] time period to learn facts about things that were going on during that time,” said Adekolu. “It’s almost like a choose-your-own-adventure, you’re able to see how all of these things are interconnected.”

“Making a Way Out of No Way” is broken down into six different themes: An Enterprising Spirit, Organizing for Success, A Tradition of Activism, Foundations of Faith, Power of the Press and The Value of Education. The AFRO is featured in the section titled “Power of the Press.” 

The AFRO section contains a new 3D interactive experience, as well as an oral history with former publisher and CEO of the AFRO, Jake Oliver. The exhibit is accompanied by a brief history of John Henry Murphy Sr., founder of the AFRO, and the history of the paper. Oliver’s oral history is in the format of an almost two-hour long video interview, and also contains a bio on him.

The new exhibit is one of two online immersive experiences available on their Searchable Museum site. It was developed initially for NMAAHC’s “Slavery and Freedom” exhibit, but has grown since. The searchable museum was created by Fearless, one of Baltimore’s largest Black-owned firms and largest software development firms, and their partnership with Fantasy, KindSys, Agile Six, and Catalyte.

The NMAAHC is the only national museum exclusively dedicated to documenting African American history, life and culture. Although it was established by an act of Congress in 2003, the museum did not open to the public until 2016. As the 19th Smithsonian Institution museum, it has collected more than 40,000 artifacts to date, and over 100,000 people are members. 

To check out Jake Oliver’s oral history or the AFRO section of the exhibit,  “Making a Way Out of No Way,” visit www.searchablemuseum.com.

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