Breaking ground where ‘lives were once traded’

Updated

As a child, I recall seeing the limited exhibits of African American artifacts in local museums and art houses, asking one question above all: “Is that it?” Was that all there was to see, a few old bibles, some old sharecropper’s garb? Perhaps a few photos and videos from the Civil Rights Movement? Over the years, exhibits and civic museums have improved, but there hasn’t been one central home for the history of those like me, people of African descent.

So when an Act of Congress during George W. Bush’s first term ensured that there would be a National Museum of African American History and Culture on Washington, DC’s National Mall, I was more relieved than overjoyed. Today, I was awestruck when viewing the virtual design of the museum, on the day new ground was broken in more ways than one:

The 19th Smithsonian museum, set to open in 2015, will rise on ground where “lives were once traded, where hundreds of thousands once marched for jobs and for freedom,” President Barack Obama said. “It was here that the pillars of democracy were built often by black hands.”

The museum’s founding director, Dr. Lonnie Bunch, III, was profiled in today’s Washington Post. He detailed the incredible task still at hand:

Bunch must build a museum from scratch — but not just any museum. He must build the last museum slated to be constructed on the Mall. Beyond that, he must build a museum that will house, navigate and explain the atrocities and complexities of race in the Americas. It is a task so daunting it wakes him at 2 in the morning…

But Bunch’s task is this daunting because he must encompass not only 200 years of African American history – but American history, period. See what more he had to say, after the jump.

Bunch hopes the museum will prick the hardest of emotions. He also hopes it will convey resiliency; a sense that African American history is American history; and a sense of reconciliation. “I want people to realize, this is who we are as Americans. I’m not creating an African American museum just for African Americans.”

“I can tell you everything critics will say. Most architectural critics will like the building because it is distinctive, but some of the cultural folks will say it should not be on the Mall because it’s different,” Bunch says. “I think we are going to get an amazing array of people who will love this museum and say it’s a pilgrimage [site], and we will get others who will say, ‘He didn’t make slavery painful enough,’ or, ‘He emphasized it too much.’ I expect to be criticized from all ideological perspectives. When that happens, I know we have done our job right.”

Breaking ground where 'lives were once traded'

Updated