Do You Need Advance Tickets to Get Into the National Museum of African American History and Culture?

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Here is a taste of a recent piece at Smithsonian.Com:

Visiting Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) without timed-entry passes, or tickets, just got easier. The recently-announced 2019 guidelines mark a significant change for the museum, which has seen almost 5 million visitors since its historic 2016 opening. NMAAHC is open from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. every day of the year except for Christmas Day, December 25. The museum is free, but entry is governed by a system of timed-entry passes, or tickets. The new 2019 policies expand the hours visitors can walk in without timed-entry passes. Here’s how walk-up entry and the passes will work in 2019 and over the holiday season this month:

Read the rest here.

Clarence Thomas Makes It Into the National Museum of African American History and Culture

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Back in July we wondered why Clarence Thomas was not in the National Museum of African American History and Culture.  Read that post here.

Well, it looks the second African American Supreme Court justice will now get a place in the museum just in time for the celebration of its one-year anniversary.  Bradford Richardson reports at The Washington Times:

Just in time to celebrate its first anniversary, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture has included a display featuring Justice Clarence Thomas, one of the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative stalwarts.

Justice Thomas appears in an exhibit that was installed shortly before the one-year anniversary Sunday, a Smithsonian spokeswoman said Monday. The display honors both of the black justices who ascended to the pinnacle of the legal profession. The other is Thurgood Marshall.

Justice Thomas’ apparent omission irked conservative observers, who suspected an ideological bias among Smithsonian officials and called for the influential jurist’s inclusion in the museum.

Ronald D. Rotunda, distinguished professor of jurisprudence at the Dale E. Fowler School of Law at Chapman University, said Justice Thomas deserves to be recognized for his contributions to constitutional jurisprudence, his record of public service and his inspirational life story.

Read the entire piece here.

Does the National Museum of African American History and Culture Need to “Get Religion”

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My colleague Jim LaGrand teaches courses in African American history, Native American history, and Public History in the Messiah College History Department.  LaGrand recently visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. and has reflected on his visit in the Trinity 2017 issue of The Cresset.  LaGrand’s review of the museum is generally positive, but he believes that it could do a better job covering African American religion.

Here is a taste of his piece:

So what is the difference between the language of the individuals quoted by the museum and the language on the text panels? The words about religion and religious experience from Walker, Turner, and Tubman bristle with energy. In contrast, the words on many of the text panels are vague, abstract, and sterile. Written in the language of “social-science-speak,” these text panels end up flattening and taming religion.

This is wrong, bizarrely wrong even, given the subject matter. In their time, David Walker, Nat Turner, and Harriet Tubman were compelling and notorious. They all divided opinion. More than this, Turner led one of the most ambitious and deadly slave revolts in American history. After receiving the last of his visions in the summer of 1831, Turner and a group of followers killed fifty-five whites in southern Virginia before being caught and executed and initiating a time of white mob violence against local blacks. The various degrees of controversy that Turner and many other museum subjects engendered centered on how they responded to their religious beliefs. Unfortunately, this point is lost in many of the museum’s text panels on the subject. Too many of these panels are tone deaf and biblically illiterate and, as a result, do not help us to better know and understand their subjects.

Yes, African-American Christians (like all Christians) were moved by messages “emphasizing God’s love.” More important, though, was the social levelling in Christianity—that God is no respecter of persons, that he drowns Pharaoh and his army, but rescues his children. The biblical types and patterns that filled the messages, prayers, and songs of Black Christians during the nineteenth century (and since then) are missing from text panels at the museum.

Too often, these panels miss the main point, especially this: even while enslaved, African-American Christians came to know and celebrate their full and equal humanity, and they connected this to being children of God. There is remarkably little mention about this at the museum, nor about the democratic influence of the Second Great Awakening. Instead, visitors read anodyne statements about the “transformative power of religion,” and truly head-scratching lines about how the Bible and gospel songs helped Black Christians “find grace in their communities.”

The language on the text panels on religious topics never seems sure-footed. This leads to some confusion about the role of the church during the civil rights movement. In the exhibit “Upon this Rock—The Role of Black Churches,” a text panel states: “All civil rights organizations recognized the vital importance of Black churches and sought to work with them whenever possible.” The suggestion here is that the movement developed first, by itself, and that then it discovered there were churches and church people to make use of. This gets the role of the church and Christianity in the movement backwards, as many historians have demonstrated.

In general, the museum takes a functional approach to religion and especially to Christianity. Many of the summative statements on text panels suggest that the primary purpose of religion through history was to play a part in making the world a better place and to serve as a vehicle for social movements. This view might be popular in many circles today. But it does not do justice to the experiences of countless religious believers now and in the past. It especially compromises the telling of African-American history.

Read the entire piece here.

Lonnie Bunch III: Dismantle Confederate Statues, Group Them Together, and Contextualize Them

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I just read Robin Pogrebin and Sopan Deb’s New York Times article titled “Trump Aside, Artists and Preservationists Debate the Rush to Topple Statues.” The article quotes Lonnie Bunch, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Here is a taste:

Mark Bradford, the renowned Los Angeles artist, says Confederate statues should not be removed unless they are replaced by educational plaques that explain why they were taken away.

For Robin Kirk, a co-director of Duke University’s Human Rights Center, the rapid expunging of the statues currently underway needs to be “slower and more deliberative.”

And Lonnie G. Bunch III, the director the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, proposes that the dismantled statues be grouped together and contextualized, so people understand what they stood for.

In state after state this week, artists, museum curators, and historic preservationists found themselves grappling with lightning-fast upheaval in a cultural realm — American monuments — where they usually have input and change typically unfolds with care. Many said that even though they fiercely oppose President Trump and his defense of Confederate statues, they saw the removal of the monuments as precipitous and argued that the widening effort to eliminate them could have troubling implications for artistic expression.

“I am loath to erase history,” Mr. Bunch said. “For me it’s less about whether they come down or not, and more about what the debate is stimulating.”

Read the entire article here.

National Museum of African American History and Culture Issues Statement on Charlottesville

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It’s been out for about a week now:

We, at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, are saddened by the tragic events in Charlottesville, Va. Our hearts are with the families of the victims—the three who lost their lives, the 35 injured and the millions across the country who are traumatized by this dark chapter in our nation’s history. The violent displays of racism and anti-Semitism are reprehensible. These heinous acts are an assault on our nation’s values and threaten to move our country backward to a time when many had little regard for the principles of fairness, liberty and equality.

Throughout America’s history, we have seen racism and anti-Semitism at work. The terror that shook Charlottesville over the past weekend is the most recent example in a long legacy of violence intended to intimidate and marginalize African Americans and Jews. It is crucial at this time to understand the history of white supremacy as a political ideology and the role of the Ku Klux Klan and other groups in using violence to promote that ideology. 

In the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan counted between 3 and 6 million members. It advocated “One Hundred Percent Americanism” by attacking Jews, Catholics, African Americans and recent immigrants. Acts of violence and intimidation have been their staple strategies. The Klan has been associated with some of the most infamous murders of the 1950s and ’60s, including those of Henrietta and Harry Moore, Medgar Evers, Viola Liuzzo and the bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church in which four black girls were killed. In the 21st century, Neo-Nazis and other anti-government groups have joined with the Klan in promoting white racial superiority and terrorizing blacks and other minority groups.  

Recognizing the history of violence in support of white supremacy is only part of fully understanding the events of recent days. The white supremacists who gathered in Charlottesville announced that they were there to protect a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. We should consider the political context in which these Confederate statues and monuments have been erected.

According to a recent report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, more than 1,500 symbols of the Confederacy can be seen in public spaces in 31 states and the District of Columbia. These include more than 700 monuments and statues on public property (often courthouse lawns) and at least 109 public schools named for prominent Confederates.

Since 1894, there has been a concerted campaign to commemorate the Confederacy through memorialization and education. Organizations like the United Daughters of the Confederacy, founded in 1894 to “perpetuate the memory of our Confederate heroes and the glorious cause for which they fought,” promoted Confederate monuments, museums and educational activities that emphasized states’ rights rather than slavery as the cause of the Civil War.

It is not surprising then to find that the dedication of Confederate monuments spiked in two distinct time periods: the first two decades of the 20th century and the 1950s and ’60s. The first encompassed the years when states were passing Jim Crow laws disenfranchising African Americans and the second corresponds to the modern civil rights movement. These monuments are symbols that tell us less about the actual Civil War but more about the uncivil peace that followed.

It is often easier to take our attention away from the harsh realities of history. At the National Museum of African American History and Culture, we are committed to bringing history—with all of its pain and its promise—front and center. Only when we illuminate the dark corners and tell the unvarnished truth can we learn history’s lessons and bridge the gaps that divide us.

Why Isn’t Clarence Thomas in the National Museum of African American History and Culture?

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Today someone sent me a short article about a pro-life African American group that is critical of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. because it has excluded “notable figures such as Clarence Thomas, Mia Love, [and] also the title or anything referenced to eugenics….”

There have only been two African American Supreme Court justices and Clarence Thomas is one of them.  I do not know much about Mia Love, but she is the first black female Republican to be elected to Congress.  She is also a Mormon.  And yes, eugenics (as it relates to abortion) is a part of the African American story.

When I first received this article by the Life Education and Resource Network I initially treated it as a piece of political propaganda, but as I read it it peaked my attention enough to see if the organization’s assessment of the new Smithsonian museum was accurate.

Here is what I found:

Yes, Clarence Thomas is largely absent.  I am not sure why.  It would seem he deserves to be there.

It does not look like Mia Love is in the museum.  Having said that, she has only been in Congress since 2015.

I haven’t been able to find anything about how the museum treats eugenics. Can anyone help me out here?  I have yet to visit the museum.

What do you think?  Does the Life Education and Resource Network have a legitimate complaint?

The Noose That Brought History To Life

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Lonnie Bunch, the founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, has turned to the op-ed pages of The New York Times to address the noose found recently at the museum.

Here is a taste of his piece:

The person who recently left a noose at the National Museum of African American History and Culture clearly intended to intimidate, by deploying one of the most feared symbols in American racial history. Instead, the vandal unintentionally offered a contemporary reminder of one theme of the black experience in America: We continue to believe in the potential of a country that has not always believed in us, and we do this against incredible odds.

The noose — the second of three left on the National Mall in recent weeks — was found late in May in an exhibition that chronicles America’s evolution from the era of Jim Crow through the civil rights movement. Visitors discovered it on the floor in front of a display of artifacts from the Ku Klux Klan, as well as objects belonging to African-American soldiers who fought during World War I. Though these soldiers fought for democracy abroad, they found little when they returned home.

That display, like the museum as a whole, powerfully juxtaposes two visions of America: one shaped by racism, violence and terror, and one shaped by a belief in an America where freedom and fairness reign. I see the nooses as evidence that those visions continue to battle in 2017 and that the struggle for the soul of America continues to this very day.

Read the entire piece here.

I also recommend this conversation between Bunch and American Historical Association director Jim Grossman.

Historians and the Nooses at The National Museum of African American Life and Culture

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Over at the Reformed African American Network, University of Mississippi graduate student Jemar Tisby writes that historians of race in America “have to possess a special kind of fearlessness.”  He writes in the wake of the news that nooses were found in the National Museum of African American Life and Culture in Washington D.C.

Here is a taste:

A noose represents the instrument of death often used in the thousands of lynchings of African Americans that took place in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Leaving a noose at the only national museum dedicated to unveiling and proclaiming the history of the African diaspora in America is an assault on the dignity of black people everywhere. Unfortunately, this act is just an extreme version of the risk historians take when they rightly remember the past.

America is a nation that prides itself on…itself. Academic historians dedicate themselves to recovering the past and retelling it in a way that reveals both the virtues and the flaws in the events and the people they study. While there is much to admire about the men and women who shaped this nation’s history, a country that only knows how to celebrate its successes lacks the ability to lament, and recoils at counter-narratives that speak of its failures.

The risk of doing rigorous history is especially high for those who study race in America. Nothing demolishes the idea of American exceptionalism more thoroughly than an honest account of how people of color have been treated in this country. Racism reveals the hypocrisy of a land founded on the “inalienable” rights of humankind, yet for centuries, denied those rights to an entire group of people. This is not the past many Americans want to remember.

Read the entire piece here.  I will remember this piece as I head off on a Civil Rights bus tour on Saturday morning.

Racism Raises Its Ugly Head at the Smithsonian

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In case you haven’t heard about this yet.

From CBS News:

A noose was found on Wednesday inside the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), the Smithsonian said in a statement.

According to CBS affiliate WUSA, the noose was found by museum visitors in the segregation section of the history galleries.

NMAAHC Founding Director Lonnie Bunch released a statement via Twitter late Wednesday saying “the noose has long represented a deplorable act of cowardice and depravity” and that the “incident is a painful reminder of the challenges that African Americans continue to face” and “was a horrible act.”

An investigation is ongoing. A spokesperson from NMAAHC didn’t immediately respond to a request by CBS News for comment.

Wednesday’s discovery is the second time in a week that a noose was found at a Smithsonian museum. U.S. Park Police said a noose was hanging from a tree outside the Hirshhorn Museum, which features contemporary art and culture, in the nation’s capital on Friday. Officials said in a statement that it was unclear how long it had been there and that it was found by a Smithsonian police officer, WUSA reports

Read the entire report here.

And here is a tweet from Lonnie Bunch, Founding Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture:

African Muslims in Early America

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The National Museum of African American History & Culture website has a very informative feature on African Muslims in early America.  Online exhibits of this nature will go a long way toward debunking the myth, popular among many conservative evangelicals today, that the arrival of Muslims in the United States is a relatively new phenomenon.

Here is a taste:

While we do not know exactly how many African Muslims were enslaved and transported to the New World, there are clues in legal doctrines, slaveholders’ documents, and existing cultural and religious traditions. African Muslims were caught in the middle of complicated social and legal attitudes from the very moment they landed on our Eastern shores, and collections at the Museum help provide insight into their lives.

African Muslims were an integral part of creating America from mapping its borders to fighting against British rule. Muslims first came to North America in the 1500s as part of colonial expeditions. One of these explorers was a man named Mustafa Zemmouri, also known as Estevanico, who was sold by the Portuguese into slavery in 1522. While enslaved by Spanish conquistador Andrés Dorantes de Carranza, Estevanico became one of the first Africans to set foot on the North American continent. He explored Florida and the Gulf Coast, eventually traveling as far west as New Mexico.

African Muslims also fought alongside colonists during the Revolutionary War (1775-1783). Multiple men with Muslim names appear on the military muster rolls, including Bampett Muhamed, Yusuf ben Ali (also known as Joseph Benhaley), and Joseph Saba. Other men listed on muster rolls have names that are likely connected to Islamic practice, such as Salem Poor and Peter Salem, whose names may reflect a form of the Arabic salaam, meaning peace. These men often distinguished themselves on the battlefield.

The founding fathers were aware of Islam and the presence of Muslims in America. Thomas Jefferson, who owned a copy of the Qur’an, included Islam in many of his early writings and political treatises. Campaigning for religious freedom in Virginia, Jefferson argued in the proposed “Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom” that, “neither Pagan nor Mahamedan [Muslim] nor Jew ought to be excluded from the civil rights of the Commonwealth because of his religion.” Unfortunately, this language was amended before ratification to remove references to non-Christian groups. Jefferson was not the only statesman who recognized religions other than Christianity in his work. However, their knowledge of and theoretical openness to Islam did not stop them from enslaving African Muslims.

Read the piece and see the artifacts here.

Tips for Planning Your Class Trip to the National Museum of African American History and Culture

MuseumOver at Black Perspectives, Joshua Clark Davis offers some good advice for teachers and others planning trips to the new National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Here is a taste:

Taking students to the museum is a rewarding experience. Yet, it also comes with some challenges. It is more crowded and harder to get into than almost any other museum in the country. The line just to enter the historical galleries seems more like something one would encounter at Disney World rather than at a history museum. Also, the museum is massive—too large for guests to absorb fully in even a three-hour visit.

That said, any instructor will find that visiting the NMAAHC is a deeply meaningful experience for students that can elevate a good class into one that’s unforgettable. A bit of strategic logistical and pedagogical planning are necessary to pull off a student trip to this marvelous museum.

To start, if you are even considering taking students to the museum in the next year, keep a very close eye on the timed passes page, which offers directions for group passes to the museum. Unfortunately, group reservations are currently suspended due to a severe backlog of requests. But at some point in the near future, group tickets will be re-issued. If you’re even considering taking a group to the museum, determine your dates in advance and once the group ticketing re-opens, make your reservation even if you haven’t secured funding yet. You can always cancel tickets if the funding falls through. If the museum resumes the group reservation process it had until recently, you’ll need to call a number at E-Tix and possibly spend an hour or more waiting to speak with a representative to request your dates.

Another important consideration is how to prepare your students for this visit. Think about making this trip not only a museum visit, but also a larger exploration on the question of how to make our public history institutions more accessible and racially equitable. Learning about the decades of work staffers put into opening the NMAAHC gives students an important lesson on how museums—especially African-American history museums—do not appear magically, but are the product of years of struggle by public historians, activists, community members, elected officials, and scholars. Students may also benefit to learn about the long history of the Black museum movement, which predated the NMAAHC by decades, or concerted efforts by conservatives such as Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina to block the establishment of a Smithsonian museum devoted to African American history.

Read the entire post here.

 

Friday at the Annual Meeting of the Organization of American Historians in New Orleans

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Friday appears to have been a busy day for American historians in New Orleans.  The OAH offers some highlights at Process blog.

The highlight of the day was the afternoon plenary session “African American History, Art, and the Public Museumfeaturing Lonnie Bunch III, the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture

Here is a taste:

“This plenary session was a unanimous ‘no brainer’ for the program committee and OAH president Nancy Cott to organize,” said program co-chair Robert Self of Brown University. “We wanted to recognize and honor one of the most important developments in public history in the last decade or more.”

“The audience was not disappointed,” Self continued. “Lonnie Bunch explained the political strategy (make congressional allies before you need them), the economic strategy (tap corporations and the wealthy black donor class), the collecting strategy (encourage ordinary people to donate materials to local museums, which would feed the national museum), and the rhetorical strategy (African American history is American history). He and Richard Powell reflected on the decade-long process of collecting and curating more than four centuries of black history in North America. Bunch also revealed that an astonishing 70 percent of the museum’s permanent collection came from the attics, basements, and storage closets of ordinary people. The plenary offered a fascinating look at how Bunch guided the museum from an idea to an architecturally powerful new building on the National Mall, curating an intellectually honest and unflinching portrait of black American history and culture. Thank you, Lonnie, Richard, and the excellent moderator, Darlene Clark Hine.”

Read the entire post here.

National Museum of African American History and Culture: The Backstory

Museum of African American History and Culture, (NMAAHC) construction site

There is a lot of buzz up here at Messiah College about the September 24 opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C.   Over the last week I have learned about at least one field trip and two more that are in the works.  (Washington D.C. is a two hour drive from Mechanicsburg, PA).

In the September 2016 issue of Smithsonian Magazine Lonnie Bunch, the museum’s founding director, tells how the museum “came to be.”

Here is a taste:

This moment was born out of a century of fitful and frustrated efforts to commemorate African-American history in the nation’s capital. It was in 1915 that a group of African-American veterans of the Civil War proposed a museum and memorial in Washington. In 1929, President Calvin Coolidge actually signed enabling legislation for a memorial celebrating “the Negro’s contributions to the achievements of America,” but the Great Depression put an end to that.

Ideas proposed during the 1960s and ’70s found little support among members of Congress. The desire to create a museum was resurrected in the 1980s thanks to Representative Mickey Leland of Texas, among others. A bill introduced by Representative John Lewis of Georgia in the late ’80s spurred the Smithsonian to launch a formal study of what an African-American “presence” on the National Mall might be. The study concluded that that presence should be a separate museum, but budget concerns curtailed the initiative.

In 2003, a commission appointed by President George W. Bush studied the question again and issued a report whose title reflected its verdict: “The Time Has Come.” Congress passed the law authorizing the museum that year.

All that was left for the museum’s director to do was to articulate a vision, hire a staff, find a site, amass a collection where there was none, get a building designed and constructed, ensure that more than $500 million could be raised from private and public sources, ease the apprehension among African-American museums nationwide by demonstrating how all museums would benefit by the creation of NMAAHC, learn to work with one of the most powerful and influential boards of any cultural institution and answer all the arguments—rational and otherwise—that this museum was unnecessary.

I knew that the new museum had to work as a complement to the National Museum of American History on the Mall. I’d worked there for 12½ years, first as a curator and then as the associate director of curatorial affairs. (A colleague and I collected the lunch counter from the Greensboro sit-ins, one of the museum’s signature artifacts.) But I’ve been a historian for my entire professional life. I knew that the story of America is too big for one building.

Read the entire piece here.