Does America need a National Museum of African-American History and Culture?
My family recently vacationed in our nation’s capital. It was my daughter’s first D.C. trip and I was filled with anticipation that she would see one of the places that makes me beam with pride as an American. The parks, monuments, and museums are second to none and in my humble opinion, they show the best of American culture. All was going as planned right up until we visited the National Museum of American History. I had just wiped the tears from my eyes upon leaving the Star Spangled banner exhibit and as we exited the escalator up a floor we saw an exhibit room with the marquee, National Museum of African-American History and Culture (NMAAHC). Right then, my wife hit me with a couple of those zinger racial questions that always catch me off guard. She is Mexican born and raised and not growing up here allows her to view things like American history more objectively, without the racial optics many Americans apply. Understandably, she and my 12 year old are often confused by our dysfunctional race relations.
The irony of the NMAAHC construction during the administration of America’s first Black President, Barrack Obama, should not be lost. A second Presidential example would be accounts or information related to Thomas Jefferson who is believed to have fathered six children by his slave Sally Hemings (monticello.org). Information about their lives (and all other American Presidents) resides today in the National Museum of American History.
American historians have omitted whole segments of American history that account for the substantial and notable contributions of African-Americans. The origins of African-American history education were an attempt to right those omissions and fall under the category of “a great idea at the time...”. According to the U.S. government African-American History Month website, the idea of capturing those contributions surfaced in the 20th century due to the efforts of Carter G. Woodson, an African-American, Harvard trained historian. Woodson and the organization he founded, conceived and announced Negro History Week in 1925. The event was first celebrated during a week in February 1926 that encompassed the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Some fifty years later, at the nation’s bicentennial, the celbration was expanded to an entire month of February as African-American history month (http://www.africanamericanhistorymonth.gov...).
A good idea at the time, but I don’t think anyone considered where we might get off. That is, would there ever be a time where the educational standards for American history just combined all of it into one U.S. history? If there was ever an end-game, we seem to have lost the will to reach it. We’re now marching in the opposite direction by institutionalizing the assertions that there is a separate history for Blacks and that Blacks also have a separate culture.
The real issue is that American history as taught in the public education system does not provide a full accounting. People shouldn't have to go to a separate museums, libraries, or lectures designated as African-American history to get a comprehensive context of American history.
About - African American History Month 2014 (Library of Congress). (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2014, from http://www.africanamericanhistorymonth.gov...
Though it is perfectly feasible to put this history in the National Museum of American history it would require a increase in space by up to 50% thus it is completely feasible to imagine this unique and dreadful section of American society to get their own museum due to the drastic difference in how they achieved the American dream.In relation to your comment on how "American history consists of the good, bad, and the ugly. But at the end of the day it is just that, American history" dose not mean that a museum cannot be opened to display the "ugly" side of American history. For based on the comments I sometimes hear from right wing people who say that urban blacks on welfare is worse than slavery I think that America has not done enough to educate America about our ugly past and instead try and hide from it. A museum that focuses on the plight of the African American people would be a step in the right direction to educate Americans on the past of our nation.
In relation to the idea that "two separate American histories could be insulting" would only happen if the people who were insulted by the museum didn't realize that the museum would not be giving a different history but would instead be given American history from a different view point.
On your opinion on black history month I would completely agree with you that it is much more harmful than good but the opening of a museum and a insulting symbolic month are two very different things.
In the assertion that blacks have a different culture it was true for a majority of american history when blacks were slaves or latter when they were ghettoized thus a museum that gives information on the plight of African Americans could not be a bad thing.
In relation to the idea that African American history should not be needed is flat out wrong because in order to give context on Americans way of life you would need to analyze tow very different societies that were connected in someways but were otherwise two very different ways of living.
welcome, I’m very happy to discuss this with you. I think your views have merit, but disagree in general and here’s why.
I agree, at one time African-Americans led very different lives than other Americans. The question is why? African-Americans are not Native Americans, who although displaced, were allowed to practice their original native cultures and continue today. Instead, Africans were enslaved by Americans. It would be a mistake to separate this interaction and ensuing generational consequences. In addition to being one of the engines of the American economy, close to 850,000 soldiers died in the Civil War, which is greater than the total number of American soldier deaths in all other American conflicts combined (http://www.civilwar.org...). No one race owns this and related history.
To be clear, I’m in no way suggesting that “we ignore the history of racial subjugation”.
You stated, “...two very different societies that connected in some ways, but were otherwise two very different ways of living”. I think you miss the point, they weren’t neighbors that shared a fence, water well, and farm land but led different lives; the society was directly and inextricably connected. Plantations were plantations because of slaves; slaves were slaves because the south needed them to supply the cotton demand. There was no choice on the part of Blacks and Whites were primarily culpable in this human engine. We don’t need a “separate but equal” museum to tell this story from an “African-American” perspective, to colorize history even more. Bad things happened and all Americans need to not just learn that history, but understand the profound and devastating ramifications whose effects linger today and likely for generations to come.
I am firstly confused by the idea that we should not build museum because people might not visit it. Because I may not have reiterate the point that I have no problem with National Museum of American history with sections devoted to black history. However I think that a National Museum of African-American History and Culture has just as much a reason to be built a other specialized museums such as the World War II museum in New Orleans and other large but specialized museums. Thus a museum devoted to black culture is not the segregation of history anymore than building a World War II museum makes all other wars not important. For do you really think that any exhibit can fully summarize the history of African Americans in the United States as well as a all other walks of American life. It also avoids the slippery slope of a museum needing "to prioritize and make decisions about relative importance" that may offend people by instead providing a whole museum to cover specialized parts of American life. For the American experience is a very different journey that many faucets can not all be held in one Museum for the breadth of information is truly staggering. Thus the creation of more specialized museums is not segregation but is merely a deeper coverage of certain sections of American life.
In relation to your thoughts that African Americans "own" the history of the Civil War that is not what is being pursued in the creation of a specialized museum for African Americans. Instead what is being created a is a view of the soldiers eyes or the politicians but through slaves a valuable insight that is often not fully covered in some museums. However, a specialized museum would be a able to focus and thus go into more depth on the civil war from a different point of view.
To your point that history from a African American perspective would lead to polarization may be correct but to shy away from showing a ugly past just because it offends people sets up a dangerous appeasement precedent of America ignoring its past because it might make some people angry.
To your point that African Americans have been intrinsically connected I would agree but I would also say that the connection between slave a master was vastly different than each other. Also saying that slaves were slaves just because the south needed them ignores the long history of slavery that this museum would give context on. For the United States has a much longer history on the treatment and lives of African Americans than from the indentured servants of the Virginia Colony all the way to the civil rights movement African Americans have lived lives the were quite different from each other. Thus it would not be "coloring" history it would be giving a new view point that has often been misconstrued by Americans.
this is a difficult topic with many facets. I respect your sincere and thoughtful positions.
There is a need to educate current and future generations about Blacks in American history, the challenge is how we balance that education in a multi-ethnic, multi-generational society. We need to consider the effects on future generations. My mother is a baby-boomer, raised in the segregated and racist south. I have a Gen-X niece and my daugher is a Millennial. I can clearly see the differing racial attitudes throughout that spectrum with my daughter’s generation being the most color-blind.
I agree the younger Cubans, it’s time for change in the embargo policy. Likewise, we should rethink this societal obsession with prefixing “African-” to anything and everything in hopes increasing awareness or changing attitudes. I don’t think that’s anymore than extending Black history from one week to one month or longer.
I’m not against the National Museum of American History expanding exhibits into another building as long they fall under the category of “American” history. However, I categorically reject the notions of history being subdivided by race and that African-Americans have a different history and culture.
It’s not just about that some people wouldn’t go to the NMAAHC, my premise is whether or not the concepts of African-American history and Culture actually serve the greater good of the American peoples for today future generations.
You stated, “I think that a National Museum of African-American History and Culture has just as much a reason to be built a other specialized museums such as the World War II museum in New Orleans and other large but specialized museums.”
That’s my point exactly, the World War II museum is about a war in “American” history. By your logic, there should be an African-American Civil War museum, African-American World War II museum, African-American Vietnam museum because surely in all of them there was a Black point of view that should be brought to light. That’s what the NMAAHC espouses, extracting and branding a Black perspective for events in American history and putting that into a separate building.
Herein lies the slippery slope...by your logic, if we have a NMAAHC, then we should also have National African-American History and Culture books, and ultimately African-American libraries... What would be the purpose of that?
It's likely that on any given rainy day during slavery, their owner were inside their lovely homes dry and comfortable, while their slaves were somewhere else under much much worse conditions. The details of how each lived in that moment is American history and is inextricably interconnected. I don't want to have look in a separate history museum, library, other archive designated as African-American to get those details. That information should be blended or maybe in separate chapters, but in the same history book.
In my view, the World War II museum should accurately depict the role that all Americans played and would include Japanese, Native American, Latinos, African-Americans. etc.. That history must include the Tuskegee Airman and others like the Harlem Hellfighters of World War I; the racism, mistreatment, and even medical experimentation. Otherwise, it’s incomplete American history. Again, American history is…when, who, what, where, why, and how?
No, I don’t think one exhibit can fully summarize this history. So add how ever many exhibits are needed to do so, but as they do they shouldn’t relabel the history or repackage it to address what someone thinks will patronize one race or another’s view of history. Who made the decision to leave it out in the first place? We’re talking about righting wrongs, where I disagree is on implementation.
I don’t think I implied that African-Americans owned the history of the Civil War. I used watershed events from that period in American history to exemplify the interconnectedness of our shared history. According to PBS (n.d.), “America and slavery developed side by side; their shared history was defined by edicts and constitutions as well as by the actions and reactions of individuals” (http://www.pbs.org...).
“John Glen was an American astronaut and hero”
“Dr. Ronald McNair was an African-American astronaut and hero”
Americans don't say that John Glen is a White-American astronaut and hero. We know that he was white, because we learned it in history class and saw pictures of him in books, museums, and media. In the same fashion, all Americans should inherently know that Dr. McNair was black, for whatever that is really worth.
We can’t change the status quo by perpetuating a segregated American bio. Nor, can we truly elevate American heroes like Dr. McNair to be on par with their counterparts by relegating them to a separate section of history.
I'm glad that you have no problem with African American sections of a museum. But I disagree with you on the point that African American history is not different than American history. For African Americans ave lived completely different lives than other Americans and thus have a right to a museum covering their experience just as much as Native Americans, Cowboys of the west, and miners all of which have their own separate history. And and museum of African history will give coverage of African American and White American relations both the god bad and ugly. So I disagree with you on the idea that a African American History museum is segregation. Instead I feel that it is merely giving another view of history that has been severely restrained throughout much of history.
Though I believe your point about the museums is tacking the idea of African museums a bit far I would have no qualms about such a museum. Because blacks served a very interesting role in wars in America that books been written about. Thus it is perfectly logical to imagine a museum opened to analyse and give context on African American involvement in military action in the united states for African Americans until the Korean war fought in a segregated that was the only one of its kind in the world. Surly that type of surprising information could deserve a museum.
The logic that their would be African American libraries somewhat confusing. However I can most definitely imagine sections devoted to Africa American authors that have written powerful books that is part of the literary critique of such novels. the three powerful books by African American authors is "To Kill a Mockingbird" the Play "Rasin in the Sun" and the short story "The Lottery". And their have been entire museums devoted to one author so it is perfectly imaginable to see a museum for black authors in literature.
For the fact that slaves and masters lived in connected worlds does not mean that each do not deserve their own museums. For technically everyone on the Earth is connected in some ways but it does not mean that their history is the same. Also museums can be developed to give breadth or depth to a subject. For instance a history textbook may be 300 pages long and so could a book about African Americans. Both would have information on African Americans but one wold simply have more. is this book harmful to America because it dose not give equal coverage of whites in the book about African Americans?Because in my opinion it is not and thus the NMAAHC is simply serving as that more in depth specialized history book.
i appreciate your views that World War II museums should cover all history in relation to races but it ignores the idea of specialization which every museum does to a certain extent. For instance the Imperial War Museum in England gives a complete history of all military conflicts Britain fought in. The World War II museum is no less valuable but rather than covering all war it only covers World War II. This analogy of breadth an depth in History can be applied to African American history as a sect of American history that is evaluated in the museum. That does not however mean that the museum is a segregation of society.
I never laid a claim that African Americans owned the Civil War but I think we both can agree that the Civil War and the reconstruction that took place after was one of the most important events in American history. Thus to imagine the Civil War and Reconstruction from a black perspective would be a enlightening experience just as learning about was the civil war was like for southerners and northerners.
And despite many similarities history is not a science for in Science their is a wrong and a right. In history the answers so matter how elegantly defended will always have those who oppose. History can also not be prove seeing as science still has yet to provide a time machine. I also believe that history can be viewed through different lenses. For instance slavery can be argued to be a benefit to America or a detriment. However the history can be analysed through the facts from African Americans, southerners, northerners, or any other group in America. But to demonize notion that giving context on these lenses in separate museums to add depth o the topic as determent to societal health in my opinion a incorrect assumption.
To your statements on Dr.Ronald McNair it is a accomplishment that he was the first African American astronaut because such a event would not of happened in the 1960s and thus shows how far America has come. Thus to say that the fact that McNair being black counted for little is the equivalent to saying that Rosa Parks, of which the anniversary is today, refused to move when a white man told her to move. These moments are defining for African Americans in America and your belief that them being black means little than perhaps a African American History would help give context on how significant it was that McNair was African American.
it’s great to hear your opinions. You are staunch and consistent in your beliefs and I respect that.
“For African Americans have lived completely different lives than other Americans and thus have a right to a museum covering their experience just as much as Native Americans, Cowboys of the west, and miners all of which have their own separate history”
When you say, “African-Americans have lived completed different lives”, it sounds like they consciously wanted to do that and their suffering has given them a “right” to display their history in the fashion of their choosing. I’ll restate my original argument that African-Americans are not Native Americans, who although displaced, were allowed to practice their original native culture and create a separate history from that of the rest of America. For example, most Americans could not describe the Native-American form of government or when they had their last election? That’s because we have two distinct societies and that information or the recording of it is not germane to the lives of the average American citizen. Unlike that of Native American, the history of blacks developed side by side with that of America.
There were also black cowboys and miners; by your logic there would be separate African-Cowboy and African-Miner museums to display their separate history.
“And despite many similarities history is not a science for in Science there is a wrong and a right. In history the answers so matter how elegantly defended will always have those who oppose. History can also not be prove seeing as science still has yet to provide a time machine. I also believe that history can be viewed through different lenses.”
This sentiment is the part of your opinion that I have the biggest problem with. History is immutable and very much like science because we can’t go back and change it. For example, it is an irrefutable fact that on Dec. 7th, 1941 the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Some number of white and black military personnel died on that day, that is history and there is no black, white, or in between perspective.
What you’re proposing is that when we talk about Pearl Harbor day, we discuss it from a racial perspective, “through different lenses”. That perspective would be an opinion on history, not history. Those opinions should be left to the reader/observer to make and not be biased.
“Instead I feel that it is merely giving another view of history that has been severely restrained throughout much of history.”
The other problem I have with your argument is this...whose views would we be taking? Was there a poll? Who made the decision that by prefixing the words “African-American” onto a view, those views speak for all blacks? Where else are those view publicized?
Let’s take a historical event that people might think would be really meaningful to black people, the assassination of Dr. King. One might think that would loom large in the NMAAHC. However, Dr. King’s death had meaning for all Americans and blacks have no more special claim to that history than they do to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Both were Americans and both assassinations were American history.
“However I can most definitely imagine sections devoted to Africa American authors that have written powerful books that is part of the literary critique of such novels. the three powerful books by African American authors is "To Kill a Mockingbird" the Play "Raisin in the Sun" and the short story "The Lottery".”
This is exactly what we don’t want and don’t have in public libraries, that is, an African-American literature section that segregates black authors. First, the books you mentioned are fiction, not historical. Second, if blacks want true equality, books authored by black authors should follow the cataloging system like all other authors. Third, those books are good and the authors happen to be black; it’s not that the books are good because the authors are black. They were good writers, not good black writers. Lastly, there was a little tome titled, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” about black people and it was authored by a white woman.
“Imperial War Museum in England gives a complete history of all military conflicts Britain fought in”
Interestingly, blacks live in Britain where slavery existed until 1833. However, I can only find the International Slavery Musuem (http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk...) in the UK. There doesn’t appear to be any government sponsored racial separation or distinction in their country’s history.
I didn’t write that Dr. McNair being black has little meaning, that was misconstrued. You’re right though, his achievements would not have been possible in the 60s. But Dr. McNair didn’t do it by himself, American society had to change and that is American history. His achievements and others were the fruits of moral progress and all the good, bad, and ugly history it took to get there.
Giants like Ms. Rosa Parks, should be as important to all Americans and we should strive to see that they receive their proper place in American history.
If there never comes a time in American society when being black means nothing more than the menial physical characteristic that it is, then Dr. King’s dream of “living in a nation where his children are judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin”, will remain unfulfilled.
I at least see and understand your positions. I just think that future generations need a way out of this box.
Thanks for your time.
1."When you say, "African-Americans have lived completed different lives", it sounds like they consciously wanted to do that and their suffering has given them a "right" to display their history in the fashion of their choosing. I"ll restate my original argument that African-Americans are not Native Americans, who although displaced, were allowed to practice their original native culture and create a separate history from that of the rest of America. For example, most Americans could not describe the Native-American form of government or when they had their last election? That"s because we have two distinct societies and that information or the recording of it is not germane to the lives of the average American citizen. Unlike that of Native American, the history of blacks developed side by side with that of America."
to your first part of your rebuttal I'm not saying that African Americans choose to live lives different than typical Americans for instead they ere often forced to live these different lives. I also do not think that their suffering gives them to a right to a different history. I think that the fact that African American history for a majority of African American history has been radically different than other type of Americans until well after the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s. I have never said that African Americans our native Americans but used them as a analogy because their history although even more fundamentally different than African Americans in comparison to typical Americans. For I would ask the question do you really think that slave owners and slaves lived similar lives?N they didn't and that is why they developed a different culture, church, type of society, and even different interpretations of family. Thus I would say that these fundamental differences between African Americans and typical Americas would justify a museum investigating those historical differences.
2.There were also black cowboys and miners; by your logic there would be separate African-Cowboy and African-Miner museums to display their separate history
No i do not think that black miners deserve their entire own museum because that focus of history may be to small. However, I,m not well versed in miner history so I may be wrong.
2."This sentiment is the part of your opinion that I have the biggest problem with. History is immutable and very much like science because we can"t go back and change it. For example, it is an irrefutable fact that on Dec. 7th, 1941 the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Some number of white and black military personnel died on that day, that is history and there is no black, white, or in between perspective."
I do not consider history a science because it is not a science. For the definition of science is "the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.". You cannot test whether Pearl harbor happened through experimentation nor can we ever know exactly why Pearl harbor happened. Though we can make accurate conjectures about them we can never know for sure unless science provides a time machine. Thus history is in no way a science.
3."What you"re proposing is that when we talk about Pearl Harbor day, we discuss it from a racial perspective, "through different lenses". That perspective would be an opinion on history, not history. Those opinions should be left to the reader/observer to make and not be biased""
That is not my opinion that we should loo at Pearl Harbor from a racial perspective. What you are doing is taking my thoughts that African American History is storied and different enough to deserve a museum. And then accusing me of pushing that agenda into every faucet of life. I have never said that their should be a African American Pearl Harbor museum or a African American Miner museum. I am merely saying that a museum built to give a revealing eye on African American life through Americas history would not be decisive but instead merely be giving a different view point of history that has been infamously underrepresented in America for much of its long history.
5.Interestingly, blacks live in Britain where slavery existed until 1833. However, I can only find the International Slavery Musuem (http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk......) in the UK. There doesn"t appear to be any government sponsored racial separation or distinction in their country"s history
This analogy was not meant to show how the British deal with their racial history which is fundamentally different than America. Also if you researched what the ban on slavery in 1833 meant you would learn that it banned slavery in the British empire not Britain where it was already banned in 1776 http://en.wikipedia.org.... This analogy was supposed to show how museums can be specialized just as a African American history museum would be a specialized.
In relation to your thoughts on Martin Luther Kings speech with the infamous quote "those who do not learn from history will be domed to repeat it" thus if we don't delve further into African American history the United States we will be doomed to in some way repeat the mistakes of the past or at the very least misconstrue it.
I have thoroughly enjoyed this conversation and I appreciate your points on a desire to end viewing of society as segregated collection of cultures. This as been by far the most enlightening discussion on America's remembrances of its stark history and I can only hope that logical discussions like this are carried out in the government of today. Thus I thank you for this debate and I look forward to see the results of this debate.