This museum in Washington DC highlights the highs and lows of African-American life. See pics
A year after it started, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture has become a popular attraction in Washington DC.art and culture Updated: Sep 25, 2017 09:37 IST
In its first year, the Smithsonian’s new black museum has become the nation’s top temple to blackness, an Afrocentric shrine on the National Mall where people of all races, colours and creed are flocking to experience — and leave behind for posterity — the highs and lows of African-American life in the United States.
“This has become more than a museum. This has become a pilgrimage site,” said Lonnie Bunch, founding director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The nation’s first black president, Barack Obama, opened the new Smithsonian to a standing room-only crowd on September 24, 2016, with the ringing of a church bell. Since then, the Smithsonian’s 19th — and so far, most popular — museum has only become more beloved. Free advance timed tickets sell out months in advance and people line up outside the doors every morning in hopes of snagging rare same-day passes.
Throughout the decades, African Americans have used music as a means to resist political and social oppression. Black music in all its forms, from funk and hip-hop to soul and R&B, has expressed African Americans discontent with current injustices. Through music, African Americans have resisted the status quo of inequality with anthems that can evoke pain and restlessness, as well as determination, unity, and hope. The songs below, are a few that exemplify the power of music to reflect African American freedom movements. What songs are significant to you? -"Strange Fruit" (1939), Billie Holiday -"Mississippi Goddam" (1964), Nina Simone -"A Change Is Gonna Come"(1964), Sam Cooke -"Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)" (1968), James Brown -"What’s Going On" (1971), Marvin Gaye -"Fight the Power" (1990), Public Enemy -"Alright" (2015), Kendrick Lamar #APeoplesJourney #SongsOfTheSummer
To celebrate the one-year anniversary, the museum extended its hours this weekend so more people could get inside to see exhibits designed to take visitors through African-American history in this country: from slavery, on the lower level, to a reproduction of Oprah Winfrey’s television set upstairs and artifacts from Obama’s first presidential campaign.
Ground for the $540 million museum was broken in 2012 on a five-acre tract near the Washington Monument. Construction was completed in 2016. Millions of donors contributed $315 million in private funds ahead of the opening.
In the decades following the Civil War, many African American women found employment as domestic workers. During this time, despite the intense labor and resources their work required, the average black laundress earned wages from $4 to $8 a month. In the Summer of 1881, twenty African American laundresses formed the Washing Society to advocate for higher wages, respect, and autonomy over their work. The Washing Society was a trade organization that used door-to-door canvassing to recruit laundresses in Atlanta into the organization. In just three weeks, 3,000 black women laundresses in Atlanta, Georgia went on strike. The Washing Society members successfully established a flat rate of $1 per dozen pounds of wash, effectively raising their own wages in spite of the City Council’s imposed fees, and local authorities’ arrests and home visits. Other workers in the domestic industry such as cooks, maids, and nurse were inspired by the efforts of the Washing Society. The strike served as a reminder to the white community of the importance of African American labor in the post-Civil War South. #APeoplesJourney
Nearly 3 million people have visited in the first year to see exhibits ranging from the glass-topped casket used to bury lynching victim Emmett Till, to a fedora owned by late pop superstar Michael Jackson, and a slave cabin from Edisto Island, South Carolina. “We expected 4,000 people a day,” Bunch said. “We get 8,000 people a day, so I can’t complain about a thing.”
The museum and its exhibits are still changing and evolving. For example, some conservatives complained there was originally no mention of the Supreme Court’s second African-American justice, Clarence Thomas, anywhere in the museum. There is now, in a new Supreme Court exhibit, Bunch said.
Emancipation was not the product of one act, but many Americans, enslaved and free, chipped away at slavery through daily acts of resistance, organized rebellions, and political pressure. Enslaved people fought against slavery in ways—from open rebellion to subtle acts of resistance in their day-to-day lives. Acts of resistance included slowing down work, damaging equipment, feigning illness or running away. All of these acts were an attempt to halt the profits of slave-owners and resist the system of slavery. More: s.si.edu/1PSKrki #APeoplesJourney 📸: A Rice Raft, South Carolina, Strohmeyer & Wyman, 1895.
And they’re still collecting and evaluating artifacts from around the country for inclusion in the museum, from slavery artifacts to items from the recent Black Lives Matter movement. And people are always willing to give, Bunch said.
Much of the material inside the museum comes from inside people’s homes and personal collections. Actress Pam Grier has several pieces of her movie wardrobe from her extensive career that she planned to donate to the museum soon. Bunch, when told, immediately started making plans to contact Grier.
Henry Clay Anderson’s photography captured the beauty of African American life and community in Greenville, Mississippi. His work is necessary in telling an alternate story of African American communities in the Jim Crow South. This month we explore the history of African American leisure destinations, that were often sites of resistance and triumph. #APeoplesJourney 📸: Outdoor Photo of Three Women Walking Wearing Bathing Suits, Henry Clay Anderson, 1948-1970s. Collection of Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
But just as important as the exhibits are the emotions and the memories the museum evokes, Bunch said. Wandering through the museum, he can often see grandmothers explaining the Jim Crows South to children, and fathers and sons talking about the joys and horrors of growing up in a segregated United States.
“Because you have these collections, it allows people to open up to share stories to find memories. I’ve heard people say, ‘I forgot, but once I saw a segregated door or once I saw that washboard it brought back those memories,’“ Bunch said. “So what we wanted has happened. This museum has humanised history.”
Unlike other museums, the museum wants people to leave something behind when they visit through a feature they call Visitor Voices, where museum attendees can talk about their feeling about the museum and about life as an African-American in the United States.
John Frazier, 76, of Durham, North Carolina, recorded his memories of protesting and being beaten in Winona, Mississippi, in 1960 while trying to integrate a bus station. “I was brutally beaten and yanked off the bus, stripped naked, brutally beaten again, and with whiskey poured all over my naked body,” said Frazier, former president of the NAACP Mississippi Youth Council in the 1960s.
Mary Lou Williams is one of the only jazz musicians to adapt her style and play across multiple eras of the genre. She was an acclaimed and multi-talented pianist🎹, composer, arranger, singer🎙🎶 and educator. Williams performed nearly her entire life, beginning at the age of seven. With more than 100 recordings to her credit, Williams wrote music for legendary bandleaders including Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman, and she was a mentor and teacher to jazz great Thelonious Monk. During the 1960s, Williams created primarily spiritual music and one of her mass songs, "Music for Peace" was adapted into a performance by the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater called, "Mary Lou’s Mass." Williams performed throughout the U.S. and Europe and she served as commentator on "The History of Jazz" recording. Her work was widely respected and honored. She served as an artist-in-residence at Duke University, where the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture was created in 1983. Williams was also a two-time Guggenheim Fellow, a Grammy Award nominee, and The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts holds an annual Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival. #JazzAppreciationMonth #APeoplesJourney 📸: Portrait of Mary Lou Williams, New York, N.Y. ca. 1946, by William P. Gottlieb, Library of Congress.
Taylor Pearson of Baltimore, in her video, talked about her discovering her racial identity in prekindergarten. Classmates refused to let her play a princess game because, as Pearson said she was told, “There’s no such thing as a black princess.”
That there is a major black history museum will help other little black and brown girls, Pearson said. “This museum is kind of like a homecoming,” she said. It gives me a “feeling like I have a place here and that in being black you can be beautiful too.”
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First Published: Sep 25, 2017 09:36 IST