As an African-American, as a sociologist, and as a person who really values culture and other’s backgrounds, I’ve learned much about exactly those two topics over the course of my life. There is much AA history that is taught in public schools, and lately a lot of folks have considered that to not be the whole story. And it’s not. There is even more to learn through the stories of our grandparents, great grandparents, and others who lived our relatively young history in the United States of America as black people.
It’s important to note my opinion that having a dual identity is one of the best things a human can have (and hey, even more! Because we all do have many social identities). But to have more than one race implied in the description of your ethnicity implies many stories, backgrounds, struggles, tales, and experiences that have come together to make yours. For me, it implies the combination of at least two different perspectives – one that is American and, also, African. The African piece refers to identity while the American refers to culture, at least in my specific situation.
That is why this weekend’s grand opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture especially caught my eye. DC has a special place in my heart, especially because it is literally the cornerstone of our country’s history and culture. There is so much available to all of us that live here on our walks, drives, and bus rides home, and so many of us take it for granted.
But I try my best to not to do exactly that. A lot of people call it “being a tourist” in your own city. And I find absolutely nothing wrong with it. It’s why I’ll sometimes take the long walk on the way home to the Metro – just to check out one of the amazing new Smithsonian displays that are right on the trek home.
I hope to be able to do this with the AA History & Culture museum at least once in the near future. My friend Gabby P. and I have already discussed trying to get there when she visits in January. Yeah, the list for reservations for the 7-level museum is apparently very, very large. I’m looking forward to an opportunity to spend an entire day in there, just relishing in and taking in culture.
For now, until I can make it, I’m going to relish in this wonderful narrative that I received via one of the White House’s e-mail listings that I would also like to share with you. The below story comes from Rep. John Lewis and the full text can be found both below and also online here. Take it in, please. Thanks for reading.
I’ve been waiting to see this day for 15 years — and in some ways, my whole life.
I’ve loved history ever since I was a little boy. Growing up in the oppressive shadow of Jim Crow, my teachers would ask me to cut out photographs I found in magazines and newspapers of Rosa Parks, George Washington Carver, and other marchers for justice. I read about Booker T. Washington, reveled in the sounds of the Jubilee Singers, and prayed for a King to reach the mountaintop.
To me, history is the foundation of a powerful legacy, and it is important to tell the stories of the millions of black men and women, boys and girls, who labored and sacrificed, and continue the struggle, to build this great nation.
When I learned of the decades-long effort to establish a national museum dedicated to preserving that too often untold story, I readily joined the effort. Every session of Congress for 15 years, I introduced a bill to create this national museum.
While the journey has been long, today the history of African Americans will finally take its place on the National Mall next to the monuments to Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson — exactly where it belongs.
It is important that the National Museum of African American History and Culture tells the unvarnished truth of America’s history — a story that speaks to the soul of our nation, but one few Americans know.
It’s a reminder that 400 years of history can’t be buried; its lessons must be learned. By bringing the uncomfortable parts of our past out of the shadows, we can better understand what divides us and seek to heal those problems through our unity.
If we look at the glass-topped casket that displayed the brutalized body of Emmett Till and hear his story, we may better understand the exasperation and anger Americans feel today over the deaths of Trayvon Martin or Tamir Rice.
If we see that an everyday leather wallet is what’s left of Harry T. Moore — a man who fought for the right to vote and died in a bombing meant to silence his activism on Christmas Day in 1951 — perhaps we will see why so many are fighting to protect any encroachment on that most sacred right today.
And as we look at the exhibit dedicated to an African American who now leads the free world from a White House built by black slaves, we can better understand the unshakeable optimism that has defined his belief that — with dedicated work and a little good trouble — we can help create a society that is more fair and more just, which benefits all Americans.
This museum casts a light on some of the most inspiring — and uniquely American — heroes who were denied equal rights but often laid down their lives to defend this nation in every generation. Often they profited least from the struggle they were willing to die for because they believed that the promises of true democracy should belong to us all, equally and without question.
I hope you will join me and President Obama for the opening ceremony of the National Museum of African American History and Culture today at 10:00 am ET.
When you hear about the heroes memorialized in its halls, you may discover the depths of the invincible American spirit. As we learn and confront this history together, we can begin to build one inclusive, and truly democratic family — the American family.
Rep. John Lewis