The National Museum of African American History and Culture had its historic opening on Sept 24. 2016 and within the first week, an average of 10,000 people visited per day.
On opening day, 7,000 official guests and more gathered on the National Mall to witness history. Speeches at the opening ceremony included President Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Will Smith, Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and former president George W. Bush, who signed a ball in 2003 which authorized the creation of the museum.
Over Fall Break, I had the opportunity to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture. At the museum, I explored the home of more than 36,000 artifacts. In fact, I spent seven hours in the museum absorbing as much knowledge as I could before closing time.
I also had the chance to sample multiple dishes from Sweet Home Café, which serves traditional, authentic African American cuisine from different regions of the United States including: the Agricultural South; the Creole Coast; the North States and the Western Range.
The Café is unlike any other restaurant I have visited, especially in a museum. Each dish has a story and its ingredients often come from locally sourced producers. Chef Jerome Grant has brilliantly captured flavors beyond soul food, and shares all these dishes with those who visit the museum.
I was overwhelmed with emotions as I entered the elevator which counted back from the 21st century to the 15th century.
As I reached the history galleries, the doors open to history of African Americans that I had yearned to learn awaited me. Sounds of ocean waves filled the dimly lit level which covered 1400 to 1877. There I read and saw artifacts from the Transatlantic Slave Trade, the Revolutionary War and more.
I also saw a slave cabin from around 1853 which stood on a plantation from South Carolina. Following this, I went through the Jim Crow Era and the Great Migration, that led to the Modern Civil Rights Movement.
The final level of the history galleries focused on 1968 to present day. There, I read about the Black Power Movement, the Black Studies Movement and Black Electoral Politics, to name a few of the many movements showcased. There were also galleries which focused on community and culture.
Many artifacts resonated with me, but one in particular was the casket of Emmett Till, whose death sparked the Civil Rights Movement.
For those who do not know, Emmett Till was a 14-year-old Chicago teenager who was accused of whistling at a white woman. He then was brutally tortured and murdered. Mamie Till, Emmett’s mother, decided to have an open casket funeral to reveal the reality of racial violence. By allowing people to see Emmett’s battered, bruised and mutilated body, she exposed Americans to the dark parts of our nation. As I stood in front of the casket, I thought of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old whose murder sparked the Black Lives Matter Movement. I thought about how far we have come but also how much further we must go.
The entire museum is filled with history that is commonly not taught in the classrooms unless it is an Africana course. I am currently enrolled in two Africana courses this semester, and I am learning about laws, books and events that I have been deprived of learning about my culture and the history of African Americans for so long.
As you set your schedule for next semester, consider taking a course on a culture which is commonly overlooked in our society.
As President Obama said at the opening ceremony: “African-American history is not somehow separate from our larger American story. It’s not the underside of the American story, it is central to the American story. That our glory derives not just from our most obvious triumphs, but how we’ve wrestled triumph from tragedy, and how we’ve been able to remake ourselves, again and again and again, in accordance with our highest ideals. I, too, am America.”
Monét Davis, a Contributing Writer for the Voice, can be reached for comment at MDavis19@wooster.edu.