The following editorial appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
One hundred and fifty-one years after the end of the Civil War, talking about almost any aspect of race relations or slavery still makes many Americans uncomfortable. The lack of an honest discourse on race accounts for much of the polarization in our politics and our inability to form meaningful relationships across racial lines.
Over the weekend, a museum devoted to chronicling the history, struggle and triumphs of people of African descent opened on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
During a celebratory opening weekend attended by President Barack Obama and dignitaries from the worlds of entertainment, sports, academia and politics, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture became one of the hottest destinations in America. The museum covers 400,000 square feet. Most of the $540 million price tag will be covered by donations and philanthropic grants.
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It is the largest, most elaborate and best designed museum of its kind in America and contains 37,000 artifacts from Harriet Tubman’s lace shawl to Pittsburgh Courier photographer Teenie Harris’ camera to Chuck Berry’s red Cadillac convertible. It is also a place where the complex history of African-Americans unfolds over multiple floors with much of it featured in interactive technology.
Every exhibit invites and encourages questions that should be a part of every curriculum and perhaps will be one day.
The museum has been in the making for a little more than a decade. It is the brainchild of its director, Lonnie G. Bunch III, a scholar with a passion for filling in many of the missing pieces of American history.
Demand for tickets rivals the mania for “Hamilton” with tickets through November already sold out and difficult to come by. This is encouraging. Perhaps the long-sought-after “conversation about race” will begin to finally take place in the corridors of a new museum dedicated to the people the late African-American scholar Albert Murray referred to as “Omni-Americans.”