Wed | Aug 23, 2017

New Smithsonian to display rich black history

Published:Monday | August 22, 2016 | 8:00 AM
In this photo taken July 18, 2016, an exhibit depicting the presidency and the life of President Barack Obama and his family is seen during a media preview tour at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington. The museum's grand opening will be on September 24. (AP Photo/Paul Holston)

WASHINGTON (AP)

The unification of the old and the new, and the use of modern techniques to explain the historical past is what the National Museum of African American History and Culture and its founding director Lonnie Bunch are striving for when the newest Smithsonian museum opens on the National Mall next month.

Proud of the striking, dark brown angular museum, Bunch sees its goal as helping all Americans understand and appreciate the rich cultural history of African-Americans, and to shine a light on the contributions and achievements of blacks to what the United States has become.

"This is an opportunity to take an amazing culture, and understand what it means to be an American through this lens," said Bunch, as he toured observers around a special sneak peek inside the building.

 

SLAVE SHIP

 

The museum is designed to take visitors through African-American history in the United States from slavery, on the lower level, to a reproduction of Oprah Winfrey's television set upstairs and artefact's from Obama's first presidential campaign. The slavery exhibits are in rooms with small cramped walls to simulate slave ships. Also, there are pieces of an actual slave ship, the Sao Jose-Paquete de Africa, which wrecked off the coast of South Africa while carrying more than 400 enslaved people from Mozambique.

"What's important about this is that while slavery was a system that controlled people, it was also a system where people built homes and families and tried to sort of craft a life as best they could," he said.

Interior construction is nearly done, Bunch said, as he led a group of journalists around wires and exhibits still under construction. Parliament Funkadelic's Mothership is completely covered, although its distinctive shape is instantly recognisable. A Maya Angelou quote placard "I am the dream and the hope of the slave" sits on a table waiting to be affixed to a wall along with quotes from Obama, Nikki Giovanni and Black Lives Matter founder Alicia Garza.

Construction on the distinctive looking building is done, Bunch said, and about 40 per cent of the exhibits are already inside.