Jan. 26th, 2017

caitri: (Books)
We lucked out and got walk-in tickets to the new African American History Museum on the Mall. (They just opened in September, and its a timed ticket thing, and they are booked up for months and months, BUT if you go to the side-entrance starting at 1pm you can get walk-in tix on a first-come first-serve basis.) When we went in and got maps, they said it would take maybe a floor to do each level. Um, no. In the five hours we had we only covered 2 floors, because we're the kind of museum-goers who look at and read everything. The two floors we saw were 1400-1865 and Reconstruction-Civil Rights era, so we missed the floors on contemporary cultural impact and so on. They do it a lot like the Holocaust Museum, there's a forward narrative going on and you're meant to start at one point and finish at the other.

We saw some really brilliant stuff: There's a whole section on Jefferson with a statue of him in front of bricks that have the names of the families he owned on them. They have the manuscript pages of the first draft of the Declaration of Independence which ~does talk about slavery, but those parts were removed because so politically controversial at the time. There's a sample correspondence between Jefferson and Benjamin Banneker, a free black man who basically wrote to call him on his bs. They also had a really effective audio element throughout the display areas playing different loops of audio recordings, and in the 1800s section they played excerpts from recordings made in the 1930s with surviving former slaves who talked about what they had seen and survived. In the Civil Rights section, they had shards from the bombed Birmingham Church, a stool from a sit-in, Rosa Parks' dress, and so on. My A&M peeps will appreciate that in the Black Colleges section that there are several images and also cornerstones from the Prairie View campus, which made me happy.

My only nitpicks were that I thought that the galleries' design impeded traffic flow, which they clearly knew going in because there are several informational placards that are duplicated, like they didn't expect people to read everything. *huff* But for instance, in the opening gallery the narrative starts in a hallway labeled "1400" with Europe on one side and Africa on the other, so if you read one side and want to read the other you have to go against traffic to do so. There were also a number of labels that were placed at angles within the cases, which meant that unless you stood at a very specific part the edge of the case meant you couldn't read it, which is kind of lame because of the aforementioned traffic issue. And let's be real, with timed tickets and the way it's set up, there is always going to be a traffic issue, you simply can't dart in and out the way you can with the other history museums. That said, I understand why they did it, they wanted to create a whole narrative and tell a story, which makes sense, even if it irks me. Hopefully we'll get to come back and look at the rest of it in a few years; they also had at least one section that was still being installed altogether, with an entire train car to show what segregated travel was like; I imagine there's other unfinished stuff too that will be forthcoming. I also darted into the shop to see if they had any exhibit catalogs for sale, but not yet; they had a book about the history of trying to get the museum built, and a short souvenir book that was images of highlights and so on. I really hope the next time I go they'll have some catalogs!!

Some links:

Created Equal: How Benjamin Banneker Challenged Jefferson on Race and Freedom

(Library of Congress Audio Collections) Voices from the Days of Slavery: Former Slaves Tell Their Stories

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