Washington museum to explore 400 years of US society
This September, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture will open, exploring 400 years of US society.
Located in Washington, the museum will take visitors back in time on a journey through the long and complex history of black people in the United States, in the form of artefacts both large and small and old and new.
Installations exhibited at the museum include a guard tower from the Angola prison in Louisiana and the Parliament-Funkadelic “mothership” which was carefully retrieved from George Clinton’s home. Most of these objects have been residing in the museum for a couple of months now due to the size of them, before the building itself was even completed.
Spanning three glass storeys, the exhibitions are laid out in chronological order and include presentations of pre-colonial and pre-enslavement Africa.
In particular the museum focuses on the transatlantic trade that shipped more than 12 million Africans to American shores in shackles. Visitors can even see for themselves a genuine pair of 17th – 18th century iron wrist locks.
Kinshasha Holman, deputy director of the museum, commented: “They are probably one of the most poignant objects we have in our collection.
“It’s something that doesn’t ever allow us to forget that we as African Americans were born of a county built on the enslavement and the ownership of human beings.”
An early photograph captured on glass of social reformer Frederick Douglass will also be displayed in the museum, proudly marking the nation’s fight for abolition and subsequent civil war. According to the Guardian, Douglass was the most photographed American of the 19th century.
“Douglass believed photos ‘could challenge the racist caricatures of black people that pervaded the United States and beyond with images that communicated black humanity, self-worth and achievement’,” said Deborah Willis, a scholar of African American photography at New York University.
On the third floor, visitors will find a tambourine from Prince’s 1990 Nude tour. The music section also features singer Chuck Berry’s trademark red Cadillac and film reels of jazz musician Cab Calloway’s home movies.
Plans for an African American history museum in Washington date as far back as 1915, when black union army veterans came together to discuss the museum in fury over discrimination and racism.
Following these efforts, a presidential commission was gathered by Herbert Hoover. However, this was then mothballed for over half a century before re-emerging in the 1970s at the time of civil rights advances.
The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture will stand on the national mall behind the Washington monument. This month, President Obama will help celebrate its grand opening as well as featuring in the museum’s ‘A Changing America: 1968 and Beyond’ exhibition.
From the death of Martin Luther King Jr to President Obama’s second election, the exhibition illustrates the impact of African Americans on social, economic, political and cultural life.