Martin Luther King Jr.’s original ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, Harriet Tubman’s hymnal, Nat Turner’s bible, Rosa Park’s dress – these objects are some of the many items that can be found in the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC).
Efforts to open a federally owned African American history museum date back to 1915. Frustrated with racial discrimination, African American veterans of the Union Army formed a committee to build a memorial recognizing African American achievements. President Herbert Hoover appointed a team to create a memorial building, but efforts were stalled when Congress failed to back the project. Proposals floated in Congress for the next 40 years, but none gained traction.
It wasn’t until 1985 that a resolution sponsored by Rep. Mickey Leland of Texas advocating an African American museum on the National Mall actually passed the House of Representatives. In response, the Smithsonian sought to improve its presentation of African American history. The National Museum of American History sponsored a major exhibit, “Field to Factory,” focusing on the black diaspora out of the Deep South in the 1950s.
Next, Rep. John Lewis of Georgia introduced legislation for a stand-alone African American history museum within the Smithsonian Institution. Facing opposition due to costs, Rep. Lewis teamed up with Rep. Leland and resubmitted the legislation the next year. In 2003 the “National Museum of African History and Culture Act” was signed by President George W. Bush, appropriating $32 million to its development.
The NMAAHC opened in a ceremony led by President Barack Obama in 2016 – within the nearly 400,000-square-foot, 10-story building there are more than 3,500 objects on display. It remains the nation’s largest and most comprehensive cultural destination where all can learn about the richness and diversity of the African American experience, what it means to their lives and how it helped shape the nation.
Written By: Accidentally Wes Anderson