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Images & Voices of Hope | December 2, 2020

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Lift Every Voice encourages communities worldwide to celebrate opening of National Museum of African American History & Culture

Lift Every Voice encourages communities worldwide to celebrate opening of National Museum of African American History & Culture

Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of African American History and Culture Architectural Photrography. Images courtesy of the NMAAHC. 

 

Tucked behind scattered curbside oak trees in the southside of St. Petersburg, you’ll find the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum. The museum is one of the only museums in the city that does not have a waterfront view. Its view is the I-275 highway ramp. Yet, the small but mighty space functions as a community center, public forum, art gallery, yoga studio, safe space, performance venue, and much more.

On September 24, the volunteer-run Carter Woodson (as locals call it), opened its doors from dawn to dusk to celebrate the opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.. The St. Pete heat did not stop families, artists, spoken-word performers, artisans, writers, musicians, dancers, educators and business owners from filing in and out of the small yellow bungalow (with an air conditioner that barely functions) throughout the day.

Celebration was in order because NMAAHC — the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American culture, life, and history — at last opened its doors after 13 years in the making.  Terri Lipsey Scott, Chair of the Carter Woodson, coordinated Lift Every Voice St. Pete  on the same day as NMAAHC’s opening to partake in this monumental celebration of African American history.

Since it’s opening, the museum has invited hundreds of thousands of visitors to immerse themselves in African American history and culture. NMAAHC, which was designed by architect David Adjaye, now has more than 36,000 artifacts, ranging from pieces of a slave chains to Carl Lewis’ Olympic medals. Staffed by 200 employees, the museum has nearly 100,000 individuals charter members, according to the museum’s site.

 

Mamie Till Mobley at the funeral for her 14-year-old son, Emmett Till, who was murdered in Mississippi in 1955. Part of NMAAHC's exhibit. Unidentified Maker.

Mamie Till Mobley at the funeral for her 14-year-old son, Emmett Till, who was murdered in Mississippi in 1955. Part of NMAAHC’s exhibit.

 

NMAAHC’s inaugural exhibits focus on three main themes: history, community and culture and include an exhibit on the museum’s planning called “A Century in the Making.” The 400,000-square-foot museum also houses an education and technology center, the Oprah Winfrey Theater, a welcoming orientation theater and a contemplative court.

July 4 march through Chapel Hill. Credit: Jim Wallace.

July 4 march through Chapel Hill. Credit: Jim Wallace.

“This joyous day was born out of a century of fitful and frustrated efforts to commemorate African American history in the nation’s capital,” Lonnie Bunch, founding director of the museum, said in timing with the museum’s opening. “Now at last the National Museum of African American History and Culture is open for every American and the world to better understand the African American journey and how it shaped America. Today’s historic dedication honors the dreams of many generations and thousands of people who have worked so hard and sacrificed so much to make this dream a reality. If we’ve done our job right, I trust the museum will be place for all Americans to ponder, reflect, learn, rejoice, collaborate and, ultimately, draw sustenance and inspiration from the lessons of history to make America better.”

Throughout the museum’s inaugural year, community centers and African American museums — like the Carter Woodson — are encouraged to participate in the celebration by hosting a Lift Every Voice event. The global initiative inspires unity and reflection within communities and, as stated on its site, “showcases the depth and breadth of African American history and culture across the nation and around the world.” So far national and international cities including Birmingham, Little Rock, Seattle, Harpers Ferry, Greenwood, Milwaukee Rio, Toronto, Cairo, Paris, Juarez, Central Jakarta, Kyiv, and Kigali-ville have registered events to celebrate the long-awaited NMAAHC opening.

As a participant in Lift Every Voice St. Pete, I was in awe of the turnout at the Carter Woodson. Many of the day’s events were standing room only. Often, visitors stood in doorways holding open doors so groups waiting outside could also partake in the celebration. Despite the heat and cramped quarters, I witnessed a united community, which spanned races and generations, take part in the making of American history.

 

Editor’s note: Gloria Munoz was a participant in Lift Every Voice St.Pete.

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