I, Too, Sing America

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture opened it doors to the public for the first time on September 24th. A long and arduous project that took thirteen years to complete after Congress and President George W. Bush authorized its construction in the heart of the nation’s capital, the museum’s message is a powerful declaration: The African-America story is an American story; as central to the country’s narrative as any other.
Unusually, the museum had no collection to begin with and had to start from scratch. Creatively, it ran an ‘Antiques Roadshow’ style project in 15 cities that asked people to donate heirlooms from their closets and attics, which yielded many of the 40,000 objects the museum now contains. About 3,500 artifacts will be on display in the opening exhibitions.
The museum confronts America’s history of slavery and racial oppression head-on. Yet, while memorializing suffering, the museum wants even the bleakest artifacts to reflect a positive message. As visitors face an auction block where slaves once stood to be bought and sold, they can also imagine the strength these people summoned to survive.
The story of the African-American people is one that is riddled with injustice and hardship, a story that is not properly told in our public school systems, and one that many Americans have not fully confronted or dealt with. The fact that the museum is located in our nation’s capital, alongside many of our nation’s most revered monuments, represents a big step in the right direction, because it allows us to publicly embrace the history of African-Americans as our own.  Read the full photo essay Here on the NYTimes