Day 1: National Museum of African American History & Culture
Visiting the National Museum of African American History & Culture was such a powerful and transformative experience. It was striking how much thought went into planning the details of this museum. The bronze-colored crown, the elevator ride into the History Galleries, the change from darkness to light, the warnings on sensitive material, and the many multimedia platforms all had meaning and purpose, which gave me a deeper understanding of what it means to be African American.
I spent a majority of the time in the History Galleries and was really moved by many of the objects and the design of the exhibits. I had read about the complexity of the exhibit “Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty” in the article Making A Way out of No Way by Lonnie G. Bunch III (founding director of the NMAAHC) but I had no idea just how much it would impact me. When I walked into the “The Revolutionary War” area I caught a glimpse of Jefferson’s statue to my right and I felt a familiar sense of honor and pride in having attended the University of Virginia. After viewing the war exhibit I moved into next room and was overwhelmed by the size of wall, the words, and of course the brick wall with all the names of the enslaved residents of Monticello. The moment was transformative because I immediately, and for the first time, felt something other than honor when standing next to Jefferson. It wasn’t a good feeling; it was uncomfortable (as Gretchen Jennings might say). As I mentioned before, I knew the facts, read the article, and been to Monticello more times than I care to admit; however, this was the first time I really felt a different perspective. This moment really shows how exhibit design and immersion can impact a viewer and re-write a familiar story. I can’t wait to go back and explore some of the other exhibitions.
Although there are many objects in the National Museum of African American History & Culture’s collection that are amazing the radio was the first object that took me somewhere else. I imagined Herman and Minnie sitting and listening to voices through static and casually glancing back and fourth between themselves and the world around them. Maybe they are listening to music, or following a drama series, or listening to news. Perhaps the radio was reserved for special occasions or only used during a certain time of day? I’m curious if the radio stations in Indiana were audience based and what role the radio played in daily life, especially for rural African American communities? Did it bring them joy or sadness as they listened? What were Herman and Minnie like? What role did they play in their community? How did they spend their days? There are an infinite number of questions revolving around this object.
This radio is a part of the Power of Place exhibition. On the NMAAHS website it states, “In the exhibition, visitors learn that place is about geography—but also about memory and imagination” (NMAAHS, n.d., Power of Place para. 2). The radio has definitely motivated my imagination and provoked memories.
The radio also drew me in because of my own personal experiences and history. I grew up in a rural community and in a house that was rarely quiet thanks to the radio. The radio sat front and center between two windows in the living room and if you didn’t hear it we probably weren’t home or someone was playing his or her own version of a bluegrass song on the front porch. It is hard to imagine my life without the radio, and I wonder if Herman and Minnie would say the same?
NMAAHC. (n.d.). Radio owned by Herman and Minnie Roundtree [digital image]. Retrieved March 11, 2017, from https://nmaahc.si.edu/object/nmaahc_2012.155.9?destination=explore/collection/search%3Fedan_fq%5B0%5D%3Dset_name%253A%2522Power%2520of%2520Place%2522%26edan_local%3D1
https://nmaahc.si.edu/power-place Power of Place Exhibition