On Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, I was blessed to walk into the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in our Nation’s Capitol of Washington D. C. The official grand opening was held on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, with a ceremony led by President Barack Obama. Oh, what a moment in time it was for me as an African American when I entered the NMAAHC. Prior to entering, just walking toward the structure, beholding it with my own eyes, a beautiful edifice that took a century to finally come into fruition was quite daunting. I had the pleasure of being accompanied by my husband, Mark and my mother, Betty Reaves. We made our way toward the Museum, across the expanse of a large field not far from the White House. It took us approximately 52 minutes, with regular traffic, which is always overflowing in Washington D. C., and people that were pouring into the historic city from not only around the country, but around the world to visit the Museum.
Once inside, we decided to start from the lower part of the facility, and work our way up. A male staff member standing nearby vocalized that the glass elevator would soon be descending for those who desired to go to the basement, we accepted the invitation. Inside, the elevator attendant welcomed us to the long awaited Museum, full of the history and experiences, and expressed himself in such a way with vigor and passion, in just those few seconds of being on the elevator that was so compelling, that my interest in seeing the Museum’s contents was stimulated even more.
I was overwhelmed by what my eyes saw and what my ears would hear. The NMAAHC consists of 33,000 displays ranging from the African American experience beginning with the slave trade dating back as far as the 1400’s to the present. And let me tell you something, they left no stone un-turned, every detail revealed —- the good, the bad, the ugly. I shed tears, my heart burned within me as I looked upon a display which held real slave shackles. These shackles by the way, also included little tiny shackles which were used for the feet of precious, tiny African babies who were also captured, and taken against their will from their African civilization, forced on to slave ships and shipped like mere cargo to a destination beyond their control.
Every where you turn in the NMAAHC there is something enlightening. If you think that you know anything about African American history, take a trip there and I assure you that you will soon find out there is always something more to learn. I peered into the windows of a real life train, a segregated train, coach 1200, of the year 1923 from the Southern Railway Company. According to the sign posted outside of the coach, it has separate sections of reclining seat and restrooms for whites and blacks. The added lounges were reserved for white passengers.
Inside NMAAHC, there is also gripping display on Emmett Louis Till, an African American young man who unfortunately lived from July 25, 1941 , to Aug. 28, 1955, and was lynched in Mississippi at the age of 14, for reportedly, whistling at a white woman named Carolyn Bryant. Till was later abducted, beaten, and his body mutilated before being shot by Bryant’s husband, Roy Bryant and his half brother J.W. Milam. Till’s body was later discovered and taken from the Tallahatchie River. History is what it is. Nonetheless, around the edifice I also saw a multitude of powerful inspirational phrases and quotes from African American women, pictures, inventions, and artifacts which confirmed the words of the late, great, Harlem Renaissance poet, Langston Hughes which said “I too am America.” My friends, I implore you to make the time to take your family to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, for it is truly epic, heart-wrenching, and life-changing. I can tell you from my own experience, that it will leave an indelible mark upon your heart, mind and soul, regardless of your ethnicity.
Reach Portia Williams at 740-464-3862, or on Twitter @PortiaWillPDT.