A People’s History. A Nation’s Story. A Battle Station.

  • 2017-02-17
  • Los Angeles Review of Books

A new White House has given the country whiplash, and millions of citizens are staggering around concussed, discombobulated, and grabbing onto pink pussy hats for dear life. At least half a million took to the National Mall with protest signs representing a potpourri of concerns.

Several blocks away, a stout, bronze-colored, three-tiered crown also had its eye on the White House. Unlike our president, it has thick skin. An aluminum casing distinguishes the five-story, 400,000-square-foot National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) from its neutral-colored, block-shaped Smithsonian siblings nearby.

This raised fist on the Mall houses a precious narrative, “the American story through an African American lens,” according to promotional material. It “helps to tell a richer and fuller story of the country,” as then-President Barack Obama put it during the museum’s dedication ceremony.

Before January 20, 2017, it was poetic that the nation’s first African-American president could see the museum from a window in his home, and that NMAAHC visitors could see the White House from the building’s front porch, just by looking north along 15th and Constitution Avenue, where countless named and unnamed souls memorialized in the museum’s sobering ground floor looked toward freedom.

Since January 20, 2017, NMAAHC’s armored exterior and anchoring near the White House feels more like a battle station, where folks can mount up with stories of survival and perseverance, view artifacts and archival films, and hear pep talks and untold stories from those whose front-line work left them with war wounds, mug shots, and funerals that made national headlines.