D.C. museum nods to Charleston
It is fitting that the design of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture is inspired by metalwork from Charleston and New Orleans. Thanks to the life work of the late Philip Simmons, the Lowcountry is well aware that handsome ironwork fashioned by African-American artisans like him helped shape Charleston’s built environment.
As a letter on this page notes, that craftsmanship is being carried on by Charleston’s American College of the Building Arts.
Like the Smithsonian Institution, the Lowcountry is trying to tell residents and visitors the story of black life and culture as related to local history.
So South Carolina should look with particular interest as the $100 million museum, celebrated Wednesday by President Barack Obama and former first lady Laura Bush, takes shape with a goal of opening in 2015.
It will be built between the Washington Monument and the National Museum of American History as a seven-level structure with much of its exhibit space below ground. A bronzed crown will be its most distinctive feature.
Exhibits eventually will include a Jim Crow-era segregated railroad car, galleries devoted to military and sports history and Louis Armstrong’s trumpet, among thousands of items.
One exhibit will examine Thomas Jefferson’s ownership of slaves and his conflicting moral opposition to slavery.
Museum Director Lonnie Bunch said he hopes that, by telling “the unvarnished truth in a way that’s engaging and not preachy, ... by illuminating all the dark corners of the American experience, we will help people find reconciliation and healing.”
The African-American story is full of tears and laughter, of struggles and triumphs. And now, of a black president.
The better we, of all racial extractions, understand that story, the better able we will be to see ourselves as one country united by the principles of freedom, strengthened by diversity and fortunate to enjoy a culture made more interesting in its blend of Africa, Europe, Asia and all corners of the world.