On Wednesday February 22, Professor Michael Blakey of the Anthropology Dept. attended ground-breaking ceremonies in Washington DC for the new National Museum of African American History and Culture. Prof. Blakey serves on the Scholarly Advisory Committee of the Museum, and is also the Director of the Institute of Historical Biology here in the Department of Anthropology.
The NMAAHC will be the latest in the series of Smithsonian Institution affiliated museums on the national Mall, one which has been long anticipated. Along with the National Museum of the American Indian, this institution will finally bring greater inclusion into this sweep of cultural and historical overviews of the American experience. According to the Washington Post, "The push for an African American history site in Washington began in 1915, when black Civil War veterans asked for a monument on the Mall. But it wasn’t until 2003 that President George W. Bush signed the museum’s authorizing legislation."
The ground-breaking ceremonies were attended by President and Mrs. Obama, former First Lady Laura Bush, and Lonnie Bunch, the new Museum's founding Director, among others. The President spoke about the history of the Mall as an occasional site of slave markets, of the importance for all Americans of remembering the African American past, and of how he looks forward to his daughters, Malia and Sasha, visiting the Museum when it opens. Following the ceremony a reception was held at the White House.
Pictured waiting for the President's arrival are James Lowell Gibbs and his wife, Jewelle Taylor Gibbs, both of whom are Emeritus Professors at UC Berkeley, and Prof. Blakey. Prof.. J. Gibbs, a social anthropologist and renowned Africanist, is past Chair of the Anthropology Department at Berkeley. The reception must have been good, for as Prof.. Blakey remarked: "I want you to know that the company was brilliant and whenever there are oysters one is acutely aware of eating at the top of the chain. But the scallops were to die for."
The new Museum is slated to open in 2015. Its $500 million construction budget will be met through a combination of Federal and private funds. In its mission statement, the Museum proclaims: "...the museum will use African American culture as a means to help all Americans see how their stories, their histories, and their cultures are shaped and informed by international considerations -- and how the struggle of African Americans has impacted freedom struggles around the world ... Finally, as a 21st century institution, the museum must be a place of collaboration. We must be a truly national museum that reaches beyond Washington to engage new audiences and to collaborate with the myriad of museums and educational institutions, both nationally and internationally."
The NMAAHC has already begun collecting -- it curates Harriet Tubman's shawl and Nat Turner's Bible, among many other moving reminders of our nation's past. Curently, visitors can see some of the collection on display in the National Museum of American History, across 14th St. from the site of the new Museum.