“A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them.”
The above words were spoken by former President, George W. Bush at the opening ceremony of the National Museum of African American History and Culture on 09/24/2016. It is hard to believe, per the Washington Post special dedication edition of 09/22/16, that eleven years ago, Lonnie Bunch, the Founding Director of the Smithonian’s National Museum of Africian American History and Culture (NMAAHC) had “No collections. No site. No money. No staff.” President Bush wasted no time in acknowledging this almost impossible accomplishment of Director Bunch. It was President Bush who sign the bill authorizing the construction of the Museum back on November, 2003. President Bush cited three reason why this national treasure should be housed on the National Mall, and I will praphase same. I highly recommend the reading of his entire speech which serves as a beacon of hope to a nation that is highly divided and in need of a good dose of hope and a even larger dose of humility.
Bush highlight how “America’s original sin” of slavery reflect a country founded on the promise of liberty, held millions in chains. How the voices of men like John Adams, who called slavery an “evil of colossal magnitude,” were not heeded and often not heard. The NMAAHC covers the African Slave Trade, the Middle Passage and the Slave trade in the Americas with the artifacts from shackles from a sunken slave ship to the inhumane marketing and evils of the slave industry. The museum basically looks at three time periods: Slavery and Freedom; Era of Segregation, 1876-1968; and A changing America: 1968 and beyond. But those “voices” were “always known to a power greater than any on earth, one who loves his children and meant them to be free.”
Bush pinpoint his second reason in equally eloquent words. “…this museum shows America’s capacity to change. For centuries, slavery and segregation seemed permanent. Permanent parts of our national life. But not to Nat Turner or Frederick Douglass; Harriet Tubman; Rosa Parks; or Martin Luther King Jr. All answered cruelty with courage and hope.” One photo on exhibit shows Dr. Martin Luther King being arrested by two white police officers. Dr. King is being man handle like a “rag doll’, with his hat barely remaining on his head. The officers have him handcuffed from the back, as Dr. King almost falls to the ground. The look and demeanor on the faces of the officers and Dr. King pierces the heart and soul of the on lookers. The 3000 or more artifacts clearly documents the cruelty and the courage of the many Americans who heard and heeded the call of freedom denied until freedom was delivered. That journey towards freedoms continues today.
Finally President Bush reminds us that the museum showcases the talent of some of our finest Americans. “The galleries celebrate not only African American equality, but African American greatness.” Bush highlights one of his favorite as a teenager, Chuck Barry and his restored 1973 Eldorado convertible. “I’m not giving you anything” Berry reported said. Yet after curator, Kevin Strait ended his meeting with Berry the Cadillac was on a truck headed to Washington. A similar story exist regarding the beaten-up PT-13 plane that was restored by its owners and now hangs high proudly in the NMAAHCM. Christened “the Spirit of Tuskegee” to honor the airmen who used the PT-13 to train during World War II, the plane was in use by its owners until the curator sealed the deal. The greatness of the African Americans goes from the artifacts of Mohammed Ali to the Parliament Funkadelic’s “Mothership.” From James Brown to Etta James, from Mom’s Mabley to Redd Fox the African American experience is well documented. “The African American experience is the lens through which we understand what it is to be an American.” said Bunch. Learn more at nmaahc.si.edu.