by Howard Clemens
A new National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), a branch of the Smithsonian, is under construction in a prominent location near the Washington Monument in Washington D.C.
Doors of the new museum are scheduled to open in 2015. Until then, school groups on trips to D.C. can see the “Changing America” exhibition across the street at the National Museum of American History. This new exhibit looks at the century of hard work between the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation and the 1963 March on Washington. Students studying the anti slavery and civil rights movements will find this directly related to their curriculum. A short visit to this exhibit will be a great way to learn about some of the people and events that defined these eras in American history.
Architects Philip Freelon and David Adjaye are seeing their dream building come together right on the Mall in Washington D.C. There have been generous donations from many groups and individuals, including Oprah Winfrey – who recently gave the NMAAHC a much-needed twelve million dollar donation for their museum construction project. This will be an institution dedicated to helping all Americans see the great importance of African American history to the nation as a whole. Equally as important, the NMAAHC will make clear how the stories and histories of African Americans helped shape the struggles for freedom around the world.
The NMAAHC website has detailed information about the progress of the construction of the NMAAHC with several short documentary films, one of which shows a 3D digital model of the proposed final structure.
The NMAAHC project is innovative because of its approach to using the Web to gather archival material. Students and teachers can check the website for information on how to help preserve African American artifacts, from furniture to personal items to books. There are programs available for preserving photographs, paper documents, and also clothing and textiles. In the classroom, students can view video interviews with such prominent African American citizens as United States District Court judge Matthew J. Perry Jr. and Lawrence Guyot.
For those student travel groups and group leaders who are curious to see the project unfolding, The NMAAHC website has a construction camera with an ongoing series of snapshots of up-to-date footage of the Museum’s construction. The Washington Monument is right next door to the site of the future NMAAHC – within walking distance.
Students interested in pursuing a career in Museum work may want to explore the many internship jobs available with the NMAAHC. There are currently internship projects with the cataloging department, the collection preservation department, as well as curatorial, education and exhibition display. Students in the classroom can also be part of bringing together the many facets of this museum by helping to find and catalogue archival materials.
Some of the highlights of the museum include historical documents such as texts and photos and even implements such as shackles used during the dark age of American slavery. There are galleries also devoted to music and performing arts, as well as visual art by and about African Americans including the Harlem Renaissance through the civil rights movement of the 1960s, as well as contemporary African American artists of today.
The website gives visitors insight into upcoming exhibits for the NMAAHC. Samples of the Black Fashion Museum Collection, originally founded in 1979 by Lois K. Alexander Lane are available on the website. This collection includes bonnets worn by slaves as well as opera capes. There are also beautiful gowns made by African American fashion designer Ann Lowe, whose patrons included the Vanderbilts, the Rockefellers, the Duponts, and also former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy.
Students studying slavery in the United States will also be interested in viewing the Harriet Tubman Collection, dedicated to the magnificent dedication of the woman who herself ran away from slavery as a young girl in the early 1800s. There are nearly 100 artifacts belonging to Harriet Tubman that will be on display, and some of those are currently shown in photographs on the NMAAHC website. Tubman’s fearless hard work on the Underground Railroad changed the lives of hundreds of people. She and others help make this one of the most extraordinary museum experiences on the Mall in Washington D.C.
Student trips headed to Washington D.C. will definitely want to plan a visit to the website prior to their visit – and schedule an actual visit to the museum itself in 2015. In the meantime, seeing the National Museum of American History “Changing America” exhibit is highly recommended. Learn more about black history tours of Atlanta, Baltimore and Washington D.C. These student tours are designed to create a broader understanding of the history of slavery, emancipation and civil rights in the United States.
Learn more about black history tours of Washington D.C., designed for students studying the anti-slavery movement of the 19th Century and the Civil Rights movement of the 20th Century.