A literary companion to the Smithsonian’s soon-to-open National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Jumping from history to culture in an earnest attempt to be inclusive, this lavishly illustrated work by the museum’s staff and editor Conwill highlights the museum’s collection, which has been steadily gathered since 2005 and will open to the public in September 2016 in its imposing new space on the Washington Mall. The contributors to this excellent resource are stellar—e.g., “sage adviser” John Hope Franklin (now deceased)—and they move beyond the stereotypes embedded in scholarship throughout the eras to bring a fresh sense of how African-Americans contributed mightily to the overall “great American dream” and changed it for the better. The enslavement of Africans and their importation to the New World in the 17th century mark the beginning of this tortuous journey, and the editors take readers up to the Civil War in handsome layouts featuring photographs of the collection, such as items owned by slaves and short bios of notable figures like abolitionist publisher William Lloyd Garrison and crusader Sojourner Truth. Eloquent poems help break up the brisk historical tone, and the superb scholarship continues in chapters dealing with Reconstruction and black migration, as well as “Making a Way Out of No Way,” which concerns the building of institutions that allowed African-Americans to get educated (e.g., Howard University, Tuskegee Institute) and succeed in life (churches, businesses, newspapers). Interim chapters on military participation and sporting heroes (male and female) make an awkward juxtaposition against the chronology, while the last chapter on “African American Influence on American Culture” is dazzling. Some of the contributors include Yale historian David Blight, museum supervisory curator Elaine Nichols, renowned scholar Peniel Joseph, and author Tonya Bolden, among others.
An enticing guide to the museum’s extensive exhibits.