By Barrington M. Salmon
With the Sept. 24 opening of the Smithsonian’s Museum of African American History and Culture, organizers foresee a major boost in Black tourism in Washington D.C.
“We’re underrepresented in presentations on the Mall. We have the MLK (the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) memorial and this. We have very little going on down here. We’re glad to have the new museum because it will raise the profile that various African-Americans are making and will be beneficial to us,” said Dr. Frank Smith, co-chair of the D.C. host committee. “This museum is a rising tide. It is a great presentation of art, music and artifacts. I look forward to joining in the celebrations.”
Smith is also founder of the African American Civil War Museum, which will host satellite events before during and after Saturday’s grand opening. He said he wants young people to be intricately involved and engaged so that they can learn about African-American history and culture in new and interesting ways.
“Young people who go to museums do better in school and lower-income people tend to go less,” explained Smith. “Our challenge is to bring children to museums regardless of zip code and geographical location. I’m so excited. We need to get our people fired up.”
Longtime D.C. resident and committee member Chuck Hicks agreed.
“This is the most important thing in our lifetime,” said Hicks. “The museum tells our story of African-American people through African-American eyes. One hundred thousand people will be here. There’s nothing more important to have people come and make them feel welcome. We want people to know that there are Black places to eat, to go and see; Black places of worship. We will continue to be the host city for people who’ll be coming here in droves.”
The museum is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African-American life, history and culture, said John Franklin, director of partnerships and international programs for the Smithsonian. He is also the son of renowned historian and scholar John Hope Franklin. So far, he said, the museum has collected more than 30,000 personal artifacts that capture the richness, vibrancy and power of the experiences of Africans in America since the first Africans were brought to the U.S. in the early 1600s.
More than 150,000 people are expected to attend the museum’s official grand opening ceremonies. President Barack Obama will be the keynote speaker.
“It is a major event; a president’s event. Consider it on the small scale of an inauguration,” said Franklin.
The 400,000 square foot museum will be open from 8 a.m. to midnight with extended hours all through the first week. It will be open every day except Dec. 25.
The host committee’s 75 volunteer members has organized 25 events around the opening of the museum with celebratory activities through the Sept. 24 opening.
“This is a museum that deals with history and culture. You can’t look at the African-American experience only from one perspective,” said Franklin. “It looks at resistance and slavery, segregation, creates the culture of music and oral traditions, its cultural expression based on African skills, based on the expression of music, art and architecture. Civil War veterans in 1915 began to agitate for building this museum. We’re a patient people.”