Weekly Columns

The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) had been under construction for a number of years, but is now complete and ready to welcome the public in order to tell the story of the African-American experience in our country, both the struggles and triumphs that characterize their journey.

I was honored to attend the museum’s moving and inspiring opening ceremony alongside Arkansas State Representative George McGill. As a member of the Smithsonian Board of Regents and someone who supported the legislation to establish the NMAAHC while I was serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, being present on the National Mall at the dedication ceremony and viewing the newly-minted museum was an incredibly rewarding experience.

In documenting the lives, history and culture of African-Americans, the museum provides an opportunity for visitors to reflect on the sometimes difficult and painful journey they have traversed while taking great care to also highlight their achievements and successes. I am very grateful for the hard work of the Smithsonian staff in curating the exhibits, artifacts and stories that comprise the museum’s collection.

Washington was not the only place celebrating this milestone. There were watch parties all across the country that allowed those who could not travel to the nation’s capital to take part in the dedication of the museum. In fact, there were events scheduled in Little Rock and Texarkana and it was also broadcast on CSPAN.

I know many people around the country watched with pride as African-American leaders and activists spoke about what the museum represents and how it serves as a reminder of a difficult past, but will also provide hope for future generations.

There are also several exhibits and historical objects with direct links to Arkansas that are prominently displayed in the museum. Most notably, the museum gives the account of the integration of Central High School by nine African-Americans in 1957, which came three years after the landmark Supreme Court Decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

Several of the former students donated items to be displayed at the museum in order for it to tell their story about the fight to obtain the same quality education that had only been available to their white peers.

Additionally, there are also several exhibits and subjects that remind us of how Arkansans have contributed to or played a role in the African-American experience. Inspirational quotes from one-time Stamps resident Maya Angelou are on display, as well as photos of black prisoners detained after the Elaine Race Riots of 1919 and the songbook of Cotton Plant native Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

The interest in visiting the museum is incredibly high. In order to accommodate the number of visitors so everyone can enjoy the exhibits, the museum implemented a policy of using timed entry passes. Passes for the rest of 2016 have already been distributed and the museum will release passes for the first three months of 2017 beginning on October 3, 2016.  For more information, you can visit https://nmaahc.si.edu/.

This museum truly tells the story of “a people’s journey” and I am pleased that it is now open to visitors from across the country and around the world.