African American History Museum Takes Shape on National Mall

Jacqueline DelPilar, Scripps Howard Foundation Wire, August 12, 2013

From behind the fence on Constitution Avenue, passersby can hear the pounding of nails and rumble of machinery. The only thing to see is tall cranes and other equipment.

But the production team and Smithsonian curators know that this construction site is much more than noise and mess–it’s the beginning of the new National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Although the museum is currently a hole in the ground, museum Deputy Director Kinshasha Holman Conwill said there has been significant progress in the construction. The building remains on track to open in 2015.

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The newest Smithsonian museum will boast seven floors of African American history. It will feature history beginning in the African slave trade and ending in the present day.

“It encapsulates an important moment in American history when a group of people who were torn from the shores of Africa began an extraordinary journey, but also began an extraordinary set of contributions to American history, culture, law, life–all aspects of the America experience,” Conwill said.

The museum will not tread lightly on the more graphic and difficult moments in African America history. Guests may find it difficult to look at the child-sized slave shackles that will be in the museum. These rusted cuffs attached to a metal bar were attached to legs or arms of slaves  to keep them imprisoned. The child-sized shackles and other items are currently on display in the temporary African American history exhibit in the National Museum of American History across the street from the new museum.

The exhibits will bring an in-depth look into all aspects of African American history. Music, sports, military and more will be featured throughout the 400,000 square foot museum.

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One large artifact the museum is excited about is a slave cabin from Edisto Island, S.C. The Edisto Island Historic Preservation Society donated it to the museum because of its great significance to African American history. The cabin will be the central piece of the museum’s “Slavery and Freedom” inaugural exhibit.

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The process of building the museum has been in the works for a decade.

At the groundbreaking ceremony in February 2012, President Barack Obama told the audience,  “This day has been a long time coming. The idea of a museum dedicated to the history of African Americans was first put forward by black veterans of the Civil War. Years later, the idea was picked up by members of the civil rights generation.”

Legislation for the museum passed in 2003, and a construction site was chosen on the National Mall in January 2006. This is the 19th Smithsonian museum, and the first museum devoted solely to the history of African Americans.

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