September 1, 2016
A grand edifice to Black Pride
Are you attending the opening of the historic Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture on September 24? Blacks’ pride is what matters and the African-American history and culture is the modern-day embodiment of that pride and consciousness of our African heritage.
The NMAAHC is an exemplary illustration of who we are. The museum is rooted in Black culture and exaltation. Top NMAAHC officials responsibly met the $250 million cost of constructing this historical monument to survivors of the Middle Passage on the National Mall. The NMAAHC’s exhibition space makes an ideal venue for Black groups’ and their organizations’ ceremonies and performances. The NMAAHC is the sole national museum devoted exclusively to documentation of African-American life, art, history and culture.
In 1988 – the year after he was sworn into Congress – civil rights icon John Lewis introduced a bill to create a national African-American museum in Washington. Assemblies of Congress resisted for decades but on February 22, 2012 President Barack Obama and museum director Lonnie G. Bunch III broke ground on the Mall toward the NMAAHC. In November 2012 Black businesses facilitated the first concrete being poured as the edifice’s foundation. Black-owned businesses played major roles toward the construction and building of the NMAAHC in its mission of “collecting and preserving materials on African Americans’ history and cultural heritage.”
After much talk of Blacks building Washington for free, roles Blacks played in building and financing the NMAAHC are admirable. Clark Construction Group, Smoot Construction, and H.J. Russell & Company won the contract to build the museum. The architectural and engineering firm of McKissack & McKissack, the country’s first African-American-owned architectural firm, provided project management. The architectural and engineering firm was founded in 1905, by brothers Calvin Lunsford and Moses McKissack III whose father and grandfather were trained builders
The concept for the NMAAHC goes back to the 1980s when African-American businessman Tom Mack, then chairman of Tourmobile Bus Company, pushed plans to advance tourism, economic development, education, and the arts among African Americans. The new museum represents Black life in America. The museum owns a Jim Crow–era segregated railcar for visitors to experience segregation first-hand. It owns shards of stained glass from the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing and a Hymn book carried by Harriet Tubman that dates back to 1876. Other historical artifacts include “The Mothership” – the flying object that George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic used as a stage prop for their concerts, and the 1973 candy-apple red convertible once owned by Chuck Berry. Black Americans stepped up big time to fund construction of the multimillion dollar edifice to the Black experience in America. Entertainment tycoon Oprah Winfrey's offered the largest donation of $21 million. Shonda Rhimes, “Scandal” TV producer pledged $10 million. Robert L. Johnson, founder and chairman of the RLJ Cos., kicked in $6 million. He added a $2 million donation from his art collection. Sports legend Michael Jordan recently gave a $5 million. Earl W. Stafford, a Northern Virginia philanthropist and entrepreneur and his wife, Amanda, Alfred Street Baptist Church members, gave $2 million. The historic Alfred Street Baptist Church’s African-American congregation in Alexandria pledged $1 million.
Founding donors are the Ford, Gates, Rockefeller and Mellon foundations, General Electric and Wal-Mart, along with Winfrey, Samuel L. Jackson, the NBA, the NFL and former secretary of state Colin L. Powell. Including federal aid, the museum has raised more than $548 million.