A Vision for the National Museum of African American History and Culture
By Lonnie Bunch, Director
In many ways, there are few things as powerful and as important as a people, as a nation that is steeped in its history. Often America is celebrated as a place that forgets. This museum seeks to help all Americans remember, and by remembering, this institution will stimulate a dialogue about race and help to foster a spirit of reconciliation and healing.
There are four pillars upon which this museum will stand. The first is to create an opportunity for those that care about or who are interested in African American culture to explore and revel in this history. We will utilize wonderfully interactive exhibitions that are ripe with the best new technologies — but we will never lose the voices and the memories of the people who lived the history. In these exhibitions and presentations the visitors can explore the world, the pain and the resiliency of the enslaved; tap their toes to the music of Duke Ellington, Aretha Franklin, and LL Cool J; appreciate the individual heroism and the collective creativity that was the Civil Rights Movement; celebrate African American cultural expressions like art, dance, theatre; understand what was lost and what was gained as millions of African Americans left the south in the Great Migrations of the World Wars; examine scientific and technological inventiveness; and reflect upon the impact of African Americans on athletics, religion, and urban life. And these are just a few of the riches of African American culture that this museum will make accessible to the millions who visit the Smithsonian Institution.
Equally important is the opportunity to help all Americans see just how central African American history is for all of us. This is not a museum that celebrates black history solely for black Americans. Rather we see this history as America's history. NMAAHC will use African American history and culture as a lens into what it means to be an American. When I think about many American values like resiliency, optimism, and spirituality, there are few places where one can better understand their origin and evolution than through African American history and culture. If one wants to explore the changing definitions of American citizenship, liberty, and equality, where better than through the black experience?
Additionally, NMAAHC will use African American culture as a means to help all Americans see how their stories, their histories, and their cultures are shaped and informed by international considerations. While the primary focus of the museum is on the African American experience, it is impossible to tell that story without understanding our role in a global society. Thus, the African Diaspora will have an important place in this museum. I would love to see an exhibition that explores the intersection of race and urbanization in Lagos, Liverpool, and Los Angeles.
And finally, as a 21st century institution, NMAAHC must be a place of collaboration. We must be a truly national museum that reaches beyond Washington to engage new audiences and to collaborate with the myriad of museums and educational institutions that have explored and preserved this important history well before this museum was created. Collaboration is one of the core values of this museum.
Ultimately, the National Museum of African American History and Culture should be a place of meaning, of memory, of reflection, of laughter, and of hope. It should be a beacon that reminds us of what we were; what challenges we still face; and point us towards what we can become.