The National Museum of African American History and Culture opens its doors to the public on Sept. 24 at 1 p.m. The opening weekend, with celebrations, ceremonies and concerts galore, is sure to be memorable. The $540 million museum will have over 3,000 artifacts on display in 11 exhibitions for opening day and inaugurated by President Obama…. Fitting.
It could be said that this museum was long overdue—about 100 years, since it was as early as 1915 when African-American Civil War veterans pushed for recognition of their service. Still, it wasn’t until almost three-quarter century later that Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., introduced the legislation for the establishment of the museum in 1988. And it was even later, in 2003, when Congress finally passed the legislation to actually create the museum. In 2012, construction began and, now, in 2016, it is set to open.
This is huge. The museum acts as a physical representation of the triumphs that African Americans in this country have achieved. All that brilliance, strength and courage housed in one building.
While the museum will show reverence to history and culture, reports have said it also shows a devotion to the future. Lonnie Bunch, founding director for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, said the museum will be “going from Africa well into the 21st century,” according to the Washington Post.
“Part of the job of a museum is to look back and say what we should collect, but also look to ahead and anticipate what you think will be really important 10, 20 and 30 years from now,” Bunch said.
But what does that mean exactly? In the 21st century, of course, we will see President Obama’s presidency, but what else? How about the Black Lives Matter movement? Bunch thinks it is significant enough to have it now so curators and directors of the museum in the future will have the option of what to do with the information.
“We realized that Black Lives Matter was something that should be in the museum. This is both a driver and historical evidence. I would want people to use this as a debate and talk about these issues,” Bunch said.
There hasn’t been a space in history for African Americans to reflect openly about their history. There hasn’t been the resources dedicated for the dialogue to take place. That is what the museum is: A safe space. For centuries our history and culture has been forgotten and whitewashed to undermine its significance and now it can educate and transcend a younger generation.
The museum is more than a museum. It is a declaration that puts our history on the forefront and challenges us to evolve and move forward as African Americans in history have already done.
Terrance Smith is a senior at Morgan State University in Baltimore and an intern in the Baltimore office of the AFRO American Newspaper.