A new national museum telling the history of Black life, art, and culture will soon begin taking shape as the 19th museum in the Smithsonian Institution to explore stories that have sometimes been left out on the National Mall.
President Barack Obama and former first lady Laura Bush will join Wednesday in celebrating the start of construction for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which comes during Black History Month.
It will be built between the Washington Monument and the National Museum of American History as a seven-level structure with much of its exhibit space below ground. A bronze-coated “corona,” a crown that rises as an inverse pyramid, will be its most distinctive feature. Organizers said the design is inspired by African-American metalwork from New Orleans and Charleston, S.C., and also evokes African roots.
Some exhibits will eventually include a Jim Crow-era segregated railroad car, galleries devoted to military and sports history and Louis Armstrong’s trumpet, among thousands of items. There will also be a court for quiet reflection, Museum Director Lonnie Bunch said.
“We will have stories that will make you smile and stories that will make you cry,” he told The Associated Press. “In a positive sense, this will be an emotional roller coaster, so you want to give people chances to reflect and to think about what this means to them.”
In many ways, the museum already exists. It has staff collecting artifacts and working to raise $250 million to fund the construction. Congress pledged to provide half the $500 million construction cost. It is scheduled to open in 2015.
The future museum already has a gallery at the Smithsonian’s American history museum with rotating exhibits to showcase its new collection and test different themes and approaches with visitors.
The newest exhibit explores Thomas Jefferson’s lifelong ownership of slaves and his conflict and advocacy against slavery, while also looking at the lives of six slave families who lived on his Monticello plantation in Virginia to humanize the issue of slavery.
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