I have been to the National Museum of African American History and Culture twice now. I spent hours there each visit and I still haven’t gotten through the whole museum it seemed never ending. Just like African American culture….its never ending. The way the museum is set up for the viewers is to start on the bottom floor in the basement and work ones way all the way up to the top floor; being that there exhibits on every floor. Starting out theres an elevator that leads you the basement, the starting point of the museum. It was dark. It was so dark and quiet; it was eerie. The quietness….the silence was so telling; and ironically, it was in the part of the museum that no one likes to talk about,many people don’t like to acknowledge America’s treatment towards African American in the past and present. This was the ugly side, and the silence was deafening. It was so quiet on the basement level of the museum one could hear a pin drop. The walls were black and there was very little low lighting just enough to see the displays and enough to see in front of and around one self. The basement floor of the museum broke my heart. Throughout parts of the exhibit you can hear voice recordings of different slave narratives of when slaves were being beaten and drug onto the slave ships from their home countries. I tried so hard to fight back tears walking through the exhibit so I could still enjoy the museum; the crazy part is, I knew a lot about this history and it still hurt me so deeply as if I was learning it for the first time.The thing I did appreciate most about this floor was that they did not start the exhibit with slavery because our history did not start with slavery; we’re more than slavery and the museum displayed that this is not and was not the being of my people. It started with maps and images of the islands and the continent of Africa and regions of Latin America. Slavery definitely wasn’t the end of our story and nor was it the beginning.
As we made our way up to the middle and upper floors we saw the successes and accomplishments by so many black Americans that contribute to our daily lives. So many black Americans are responsible for the technology, culture, styles, trends, products and structures that we know today. Even though I felt sorry and pain at times asking though the exhibit to whole time I can say that I felt pride, I am so proud of my people and I am so proud of my ancestors. I think its important for people to know that black people are strong, anyone living in America back then and today that is black, is incredibly strong.
More importantly, I want other people to know that along with our resilience we are a kind, loving, talented, intelligent, creative, daring, progressive, determined, and IMPORTANT. I think about the museum and I think about what were it to be like if nothing in that museum existed, if everything in that museum vanished from American history. America would have absolutely nothing. Nothing, zilch, nada. America would have absolutely nothing. This was highlighted in a major way on the top floor of the museum, all of the accomplishments, success and groundbreaking moments for African Americans in politics, pop culture, in the nation, filled top floor. I had such an overwhelming feeling of pride. At one point on the floor you end up in the center and the exhibit it literally surrounding you, see it here. This nation was built on the backs of black people, from our blood, sweat and tears, our sorrows and our joys.
In terms of design its only appropriate that we start from the basement work our way up ascending to the top floor; pointed directly towards the sky that houses Heaven, overseen by the God that made us, protects us, loves us and provides for us. The design of this entire museum, parallels the journey of black people in America. We’re ascending and continuously getting better, growing, achieving, succeeding and progressing in a nation that put us at the bottom, below ground level and expected us to stay there. I think Maya Angelou said it best, “You may write me down in history. With your bitter, twisted lies. You may trod me in the very dirt. But still, like dust, I’ll rise.” The people that kidnapped us and forced us here tried to bury us, time after time; but what they didn’t realize was that they were burying a seed. We’re still rising.