Smithsonian’s newest museum to celebrate black culture

Tourists on the National Mall on Monday acknowledged the potential for the National Museum of African American History and Culture to broaden understanding of black culture as the building nears completion, but many were unaware of the museum’s construction before they arrived.

When asked about the site, reaction to the building and its future was overwhelmingly positive.

The museum will “help us understand what people of color have gone through,” said Michael Wolf, 51, a white man from Minnesota. It will educate us “so that we don’t repeat stupid things like slavery.”

Construction began in 2012 and is expected to be completed in 2016 according to the Smithsonian website.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture under construction at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue on the National Mall.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture under construction at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue on the National Mall.

Although the reaction to the museum was overwhelmingly positive, many white tourists were uncomfortable talking about the museum in the wake of a year in which racial tensions have flared. Many who agreed to be interviewed declined to comment once told the subject of the story.

Those who did share their opinions agreed the museum would help people appreciate the role blacks have played in American history.

The museum will highlight African American “achievements and accomplishments that have made the United States great,” said Wolf, who was touring the World War II memorial.

Stacey Jones, 46, a black woman from Houston, Texas said the museum will “help people see the contributions that African Americans have made to our society.”

The construction of the museum is a milestone for African Americans, and President Barack Obama weighed in on that significance during a groundbreaking ceremony in 2012.

“I want visitors to appreciate this museum not just as a record of tragedy, but as a celebration of life,” Obama said according to a transcript of the groundbreaking ceremony posted to the White House website.

On the Mall this week, tourists said they hope the museum will provide education and connect races.

“A better outlook at the other people,” said Marco Middleton, 25, a black man from Georgia about his hope for the museum.

It will “help us not compete against one another,” Middleton said.

The museum’s website reflects Middleton’s opinion, describing the museum as “a place that transcends the boundaries of race and culture that divide us.”

“It is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, art, history, and culture,” according to the Smithsonian website.

Different ethnicities will be able to understand black culture, Jones said.

“People will see things from our point of view,” Jones continued. “History textbooks are from a white perspective.”

Exhibits will focus on slavery, Reconstruction, the Harlem Renaissance and the Civil Rights Movement, among others, according to the museum’s website. The collection is being formed.

Some people are blind to real history, said Pamela Clerk, 51, who is black.She hopes it will help younger generations learn.

The museum will have student workshops to offer that perspective that Jones said cannot be found in schools.

Student workshops at the museum “are a resource for youth (ages 10-18) in which themes in American history are illuminated through the lens of African American experiences,” according to the museum’s website.

That’s good news to Clerk.

“We have a great history and we’re great people,” Clerk said.