The African American story is indeed one of the most unique tales of human struggle, uplifting and success. One of my professors at the University of Wisconsin told me, “It is a miracle that as a people, Blacks in America are alive and improving year by year. You went through over 400 years of pure hell and here you are today almost 40 million in number—such resilience!”
Yes, it is and many never wanted the positive story told. I remember all of the negative propaganda about ‘Negroes’ that was in our textbooks, plus the derogatory films we had to see. It would program young Blacks to believe that our plight was because of our inferiority. The fact is we are some of the greatest group of people on earth. We are truly blessed and the whole world should realize our, collectively speaking, wonderful story.
Our best Christmas gift came on December 16, 2003. That was the day that Public Law 108 – 184 was signed into law. This was The National Museum of African American History and Culture Act. Finally, African Americans will get their museum of history. The law starts off saying: “Since its founding, the United States has grown into a symbol of democracy and freedom around the world, and the legacy of African Americans is rooted in the very fabric of the democracy and freedom of the United States.”
Here are quotes from the key three architects of the Act: 1) “Until we understand the full African American story, we cannot understand ourselves as a nation, as a people” – Representative John Lewis (D-Ga.). 2) “We have an extraordinary opportunity before us—a chance to learn, understand, and remember together our nation’s history and to honor the significant contributions of African Americans to our history and culture” – Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas). 3) “We all need to learn more about the men and women whose determination and persistent eloquence forced Americans of all races to examine our hearts, revise our Constitution and laws, and make America into the nation it was always supposed to be” – President George W. Bush.
Here is the mission of our museum: “The National Museum of African American History and Culture was established in 2003 as the 19th museum of the Smithsonian Institution, the largest museum complex and research organization in the world. Its mission is to provide for the collection, study, and establishment of programs and exhibitions relating to African American life, art, history, and culture. Enacted through Congressional legislation, this museum represents a national initiative of profound cultural importance, one that will impact this nation for generations to come.”
The museum will bridge a major gap in our national memory by creating exhibitions and programs focusing on a wide arc of history—Slavery, Reconstruction, the Harlem Renaissance, the Great Migrations to the North and West, Segregation, the Civil Rights movement and beyond, including issues of the 21st century. It also will celebrate African American creativity and cultural expressions through art, dance, theater, and literature.
The museum will be located on a five-acre site adjacent to the Washington Monument on the national Mall in Washington, D.C.—home to the world’s largest collection of museums and at the center of one of the most public spaces in the nation, visited by millions annually. Scheduled to open in 2015, the museum exists today through a vast array of programs nationwide, including special exhibitions, an online presence at its museum on the web, and numerous educational programs and workshops for youth and adults alike.”
Yes, it is a blueprint for success and we should all be grateful. The museum is a public/private partnership, which means the funding comes from the federal government and private citizens like you and I. Donations start at $25. Many have given much more. Some of the notable contributions as of the writing of this paper are: The Oprah Winfrey Charitable Foundation (over $10 million); Robert L. Johnson (more than $2 million). The following have donated more than a million dollars each: Kenneth I. and Kathryn Chenault, Mellody Hobson and George Lucas, The Reginald F. Lewis Foundation, Inc., The Links Foundation, Inc., Colin and Alma Powell and Franklin D. Raines. These African Americans are to be applauded.
Let us all give something. Those contributing between now and the opening will be honored as ‘Charter Members.’ Don’t you want to carry this distinction? It’s a tribute to our forefathers. Simply go to to review the details and levels. Send something in honor of our heritage. Kay and I will be sending something and we feel if it doesn’t hurt a little bit it is not enough (smile). Give and attend the grand opening at the end of 2015. I can’t wait to strut around with pride wearing a contributor’s nametag and ribbon.
(Harry C. Alford is the co-founder, president/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Website: . E-mail: <email@example.com>.)