|Morgan Johnson looking at the view from the top floor of the Smithsonian African American History and Culture Museum|
Upon arrival I was really thrilled to experience the reactions of so many people gathered at a place that was dedicated to them. It was really exciting to see families of many sizes, shapes, shades, and hometowns come together to view the museum. This museum is truly a product of crowdfunding and charitable giving. My own grandfather donated to the museum while it was in development. To see so much giving become brick and mortar, or steel and mortar, rather, was wonderful.
I really appreciated the gravity and depth of the bottom floor, which explored the roots and reach of slavery in the United States and the beginnings of the Black experience in America. Nothing was left out. For once I was able to enjoy a full account that honored the uniqueness of every regional and demographic difference within slave communities. The selection of artifacts was incredible, and they even include information from some of my own family's predecessors from the Cane River Creole Heritage Center and National Park. This is a rarity, and having one item in that museum tied to my own ancestors was beyond meaningful. So was seeing the coffin of Emmit Till. It was a lasting reminder of why we work to protect black youths from senseless violence. I enjoyed seeing the rest of the artifacts that led all the way up to election of Barack Obama.
The top floors were triumphant and amazing. I saw a pennant from my grandmother's Ohio alma mater, Wilberforce, and saw the gas mask invented by Garrett Morgan. I would always choose him for school projects. Seeing Jesse Owens in statue form, and seeing his uniform and medals was amazing. As a shining beacon from our Alma Mater, it is important to carry on his spirit of success, courage in the face of animosity, and excellence in the pursuit of achievement. My personal favorite part of the museum was the Music, Art, and Film wing. To see some of the greatest moments in black art, music, film and performance gave me chills. Something about seeing the collective impact of work free from outside context is just liberating. I loved every moment of my time there at the museum.
I looked out on the national lawn from the top floor and cried. Much of DC was built literally on the backs of slaves. I was so proud to see how the mall has changed in the 250-or-so years since slaves would have seen it, as well as in the 50-or-so years since Dr. King had spoken on it. What an absolute marvel to watch the sun set over our country from that perch.
Overall, this visit was reflective, restorative, and inspiring. I enjoyed being in community with people from all over the country and the world reflecting on our shared history. We laughed, mourned, cried, stepped, researched, and sang. We did it all. When we left, Daina and I couldn't help but ask ourselves...what can we do to add to the history of these walls? That's something we all need to reflect on every now and then. How do we grow the collective Black story? How do we grow the collective American story? How do we write the next chapter...? What a great experience.