The new National Museum of African American History and Culture may help heal the persistent problem of U.S. racism when it opens in 10 days, the head of the Smithsonian Institution said on Wednesday (September 14).
The $540 million museum will be inaugurated by President Barack Obama and Smithsonian officials say the museum is an ideal place for a dialogue about racial and cultural differences dominating the national scene.
The bronze-colored museum’s showcase sits on Washington’s National Mall, known as “America’s Front Yard.” It is the only U.S. national museum devoted exclusively to black American life, history, and culture, the Smithsonian says.
“This museum on the National Mall or as we all call it America’s front yard, this museum tries to fulfill the dreams of so many generations who believed that America would be made better if it understood, if it grappled with, if it immersed itself in the African-American experience “ said Lonnie Bunch, founding director of the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture.
Smithsonian Secretary David Skorton explained how this new museum showcases the United States from the African-American perspective.
“This museum explores our national identity through a particular lens reflecting the life experiences over time of African-Americans. Their stories. Illustrated through artifacts and works of art through voices and writings through courage and determination through innovation and leadership. Comprise an eloquent and powerful narrative are central to our national identity” said Skorton.
Although workers were still putting finishing touches on the museum and many exhibits were still under cover, Director Lonnie Bunch said it would be ready in time for the September, 24 opening.
A Smithsonian spokesman said 200,000 timed passes had been snapped up, with no openings available until November.
Ellas McDaniel, the son of famed guitarist, singer/songwriter Bo Diddley viewed his father’s exhibit in the musical tribute portion of the museum.
“You know I’m the little boy that missed him when he was gone, I could tell you who he was. That was the blood that ran through his veins that with the blood and marrow. Bo Diddley put the rock in rock and roll,” said McDaniel.
The 36,000 items in the collection range from trade goods used to buy slaves in Africa to a segregated railway car from the 1920s and a red Cadillac convertible belonging to rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Chuck Berry.
Other displays include a slave cabin from South Carolina, boxing gloves used by boxing great Muhammmad Ali and the dress famed contralto Marion Anderson wore as she sang at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday in 1939 after being denied the right to perform at the Constitution Hall because of her race.
The building designed by Ghanaian-born architect David Adjaye is 60 percent underground. Half of the cost of construction and installing exhibitions came from the federal government and half from the Smithsonian.
The museum’s outer layer consists of 3,600 bronze-colored aluminum panels formed in the shape of a three-tiered crown. The pattern of the exterior panels is designed to evoke ornate ironwork created by enslaved craftsmen in New Orleans.
Black Civil War veterans first proposed an African-American museum in 1915. Congress approved its creation in 2003, and construction of the 400,000-square-foot (37,200-square-meter) building took almost four years.
Three days of opening festivities will include concerts with various artists and bands including Public Enemy, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Living Colour and Sweet Honey in the Rock.