Will White People Go to the National Black Museum?
The Smithsonian's new national black museum hasn't integrated Washington, D.C.'s whitest address yet, and it's already dodging spitballs from Congress.
How it will address slavery in general is a major challenge for curators at the black museum on the Mall. "Instead of being removed from the 'scene of the crime,' the proposed museum would be erected within sight of locations where slave pens stood during the 1850s and the early years of the Civil War," Ruffins wrote. Permanent exhibits on slavery would be snug between two sacred white memorials to founding fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson -- both slaveholders. Awkward!
Moran may be right that white people may not go to a black museum. The whole enterprise may, as he argues, represent the balkanization of American history. One could justifiably pile on, as other prominent black historians have, that a black museum represents the ghettoization of black history. The late, great historian John Hope Franklin, for instance, as Henry Louis Gates Jr. noted, spent a career arguing that his work chronicling the black experience belonged not in "black studies" but at the very center of American history.
Moving on to the Mall will sometimes be awkward and sometimes hostile -- as those of us who have integrated an all-white neighborhood or school know firsthand. The Mall may become "overcrowded" with a cacophony of colors and stories, as Rep. Moran predicted. But a true, comprehensive, warts-and-all account of how America came to be demands it. If it cares about telling the truth about itself, Congress should fully support this enterprise, at any cost.
Writing in 1998, nearly two decades before the dream of a black museum was scheduled to come to life in 2015, Ruffins put it best:
We know the name of King, but we do not know the names of all the others who were murdered trying to vote in the South, or the millions of Native Americans who were killed for their lands, or the millions who were caught up in the bloody maw of the Third Reich. To remember them, all nations build memorials and sometimes even museums.
Natalie Hopkinson is a contributing editor to The Root. Follow her on Twitter.