As the National Museum of African American History and Culture Turns One, Director Lonnie Bunch Looks Back

NMAAHC Reflection Pool (Photo by anokarina)

by Rachel Sadon via dcist.com

Since Ruth Odom Bonner joined President Barack Obama in ringing the bell to open the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture last year, more than 2.5 million people have visited the site.”What’s been so moving is that it’s clear after a year, the museum has already become a pilgrimage site,” says Director Lonnie Bunch, who began the “great adventure” of opening the museum in 2005. What followed was more than a decade of building a collection and a building from scratch. It culminated on September 24, 2016 when the daughter of a slave and the nation’s first black president tolled the 500-pound bell that had been lent by the historically black First Baptist Church in Williamsburg, Va. and ushered people in.

Visitors to the African American History and Culture Museum tend to stay more than triple the typical amount of time they spend at most museums. Even a year later, a pass system remains in place to prevent overcrowding, and the free tickets remain difficult to come by (they are released monthly, and a limited number of same-day tickets are available online starting at 6:30 a.m.). The cafe serves up over 1,500 meals a day. Bunch attributes the success in part to a pent up demand—generations worked to get the museum built, and the long-held dream was only fulfilled after more than a century of effort. But he also believes that the way the museum presents its subject matter has a lot to do with it.”It tells the unvarnished truth,” Bunch says. “I think there are people who were stunned that a federal institution could tell the story with complexity, with truth, with tragedy, and sometimes resilience. So I think the kind of honesty of it appeals to people.”

Museum officials know that even many Washingtonians still haven’t managed to get through its doors. So as they celebrate the year anniversary, much of the programming and performances they’ve planned are taking place outdoors. Music and tours of the grounds will take place on both Saturday and Sunday, and the museum’s hours have been extended for those who have passes to go inside.Ahead of the celebration, we spoke with Bunch about what it’s been like to shepherd the museum through its first year. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Lonnie G. Bunch accepts The President’s Award onstage at the 48th NAACP Image Awards on February 11, 2017. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images )

Congratulations! You’ve made it to a year.

Thank you. That’s the easy part. The hard part was getting it open.

You worked on this for more than a decade before it opened. What was it like to finally see it open after all that work, gathering all those artifacts, building this up from the ground (really a giant hole in the ground) up?

In many ways, it was probably one of the most emotional moments of my life, both professional and personal. To actually not only fulfill a dream of all the staff, but a dream of generations who wanted this, it was really very humbling. But quite honestly it was also very motivating. Whenever you hit a bump or you worry about how you’re going to pull it off, recognizing that I didn’t want to let down all these other generations who had tried, that was a great motivating factor.

You had this moment celebrating the opening, you had the president and all these people who had traveled to D.C., and then it was day one on the grounds. What’s been your experience like shepherding it through this first year?

It’s been wonderful in that it’s become, within the first year already, part of the American lexicon. There’s almost no one that doesn’t know about the museum, doesn’t know about how hard it is to get in, or how much they enjoyed it. But also I think that what’s been so moving is that it’s clear after a year, the museum has already become a pilgrimage site—that there are thousands of people who come to share their story with their grandchildren or to connect over an object with people who shared maybe a comparable experience in the Civil Rights movement. I think it’s really become what we wanted, which was to be a place that was as much about today and tomorrow as it is about yesterday.

You’ve had a long museum career. How has this particular museum been different from previous places you’ve worked at?

It’s different in that you had to start from scratch—you didn’t have a collection, you didn’t have a building. What it allowed us to do is say “what should a 21st century museum that explores race, what should it do?” So it helped us put the way that museums interpret race on its end. Instead of saying “this is a story about the African American community,” we’re saying “this is a story about America through the lens of the African American community.” And so that’s very different.Being able to start from scratch allowed us to think innovatively about how do you actually collect by working with communities and going into peoples homes, in their trunks and attics. In essence, because we had nothing, it forced us to be different than most museums. We have to be more creative, more nimble.

I’ve heard you say this a number of times, that this is an “American story told through an African American experience.” That story is obviously still happening; what is the museum’s role in responding to that story as it occurs, as we’re seeing things like Charlottesville happen in real time.

First of all, part of the museum’s job is to collect today for tomorrow, so that there are things—like we’ve collected Black Lives Matter artifacts, we’ve collected things in Ferguson, things in Baltimore—and some of those are on display in the museum. Some maybe won’t be in display until a curator 30, 40, or 50 years from now wants to use it. Our goal is to make sure that it never happens, like it used to happen early in my career—there were exhibits I wanted to do, stories I wanted to tell, and museums didn’t have those collections. I wanted to make sure that future curators wouldn’t have that problem.  Continue reading

HISTORY: Rosa Parks House in Berlin Returns Home to America

Ryan Mendoza, an American artist, in front of the exhibit he made in Berlin of the Rosa Parks house. (photo: Gordon Welters/NY TIMES)

by Yonette Joseph via nytimes.com

LONDON — In a backyard in Berlin, a ramshackle house that was once a haven for the civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks is preparing for its third life — back in the United States. It had almost been lost to history, falling into blight, abuse and foreclosure, in Detroit. But in 2016, the American artist Ryan Mendoza shipped the dismantled facade in two containers to his home in Germany. There, it was restored as an art exhibit in his garden in the Wedding neighborhood.

Then the strange and itinerant journey of the wood-frame house took another turn recently, when a member of the Nash Family Foundation, based in Manitowoc, Wis., formally agreed to pay for its passage back.“I never wanted to rebuild it in my backyard,” Mr. Mendoza said by phone from Berlin. “But I wanted to protect it.”“ It’s time for the house to return home,” he added. “It’s needed for people to have another major point of reference for how to treat each other with dignity. This will be a marker on the ground.”

While the house has a ticket back to America, the question of where it would find a permanent home remains unanswered. The hurdles seem huge, the logistics daunting, but calls and emails have gone out for help to institutions including Brown University in Rhode Island, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit and the Brooklyn Museum, among others, Mr. Mendoza said. At least two institutions — Brown and Wright — said they were seriously considering the project. “The house has a symbolic importance — it’s important in the narrative of her life,” said James Nash, a board member and the driving force behind the foundation’s pledge. “She suffered for a huge act of courage. It should be here, not in Berlin.”

To read full article, go to: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/02/world/europe/rosa-parks-house-berlin.html?_r=0

College of William and Mary Creating Mural to Honor Lynn Briley, Karen Ely and Janet Brown, 1st Black Students Who Lived on Campus

Left to right: Janet Brown Strafer, Karen Ely, Lynn Briley were the first African-American students to live at William & Mary. (Photo by Ameya Jammi ’12)

via jbhe.com

The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, is commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the first Black residential students on campus by creating a mural that will be permanently displayed at the university’s Swen Library.

In the fall of 1967, Lynn Briley, Karen Ely, and Janet Brown became the first African American students to live in residential housing. All three graduated four years later in 1971. The three women all came to the university last month to have bronze casts made of their faces, which will be included on the mural.

Bob Leek, a local potter who participated in the creation of the bronze masks, stated that “this is an amazing process, and what we’re going to create is just going to be amazing; it’s just going to be very powerful.” The mural will be unveiled on August 31.

A video about the making of the masks of the three women can be seen below:

Source: College of William and Mary Honoring the First Black Students Who Lived on Campus : The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education

Nobel Laureates Toni Morrison and Sir Arthur Lewis to Have Buildings Named for Them at Princeton University

Nobel Laureates Sir Arthur Lewis (l) and Toni Morrison (r)

article by jbhe.com

The board of trustees of Princeton University in New Jersey has announced that Toni Morrison, the Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Humanities, Emerita at the university, will have a building on the Princeton campus named in her honor. West College, built in 1836, is now used as an administration building. It will now be known as Morrison Hall.

Toni Morrison was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for her novel Beloved. In 1993, she was the first African American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. In 2012, Professor Morrison was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Her latest novel is God Help the Child (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015).

The board of trustees also announced that the main auditorium in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs will be renamed to honor Sir Arthur Lewis, a Nobel laureate in economics who taught at Princeton from 1963 to 1983.

A native of St. Lucia, Professor Lewis was the first person of African descent to be appointed a professor in Great Britain’s university system. He was knighted in 1963 and won the Nobel Prize in economics in 1979. Professor Lewis died in 1991.

The Jackie Robinson Foundation Breaks Ground on the Jackie Robinson Museum in NY

(L-R) Hannah Storm, Ayo Robinson, Sonya Pankey, Founder of the Jackie Robinson Foundation Rachel Robinson, Meta Robinson, and Vice-Chair of the Jackie Robinson Foundation Sharon Robinson attend the Jackie Robinson Museum Groundbreaking at the Jackie Robinson Foundation on April 27, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Thos Robinson/Getty Images for Jackie Robinson Foundation)

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

The Jackie Robinson Museum is one step closer to becoming a reality.

The Jackie Robinson Foundation hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for donors on April 27, 2017.  The 18,500-square foot space will honor the late sports legend Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball and played an active, pioneering role in the modern civil rights movement.  “Jack lived his life with such great purpose,” said Rachel Robinson, JRF Founder and wife of Jackie Robinson. “I hope that visitors to the Museum will not only learn about his journey and experience his energy, but that they will be inspired to view each day as a chance to make a difference.”

The Jackie Robinson Museum will expand the Foundation’s mission to educate and expose current and future generations of Americans to a man and an era that were pivotal in forming the more inclusive society that we are today. Exciting, interactive exhibitions, educational outreach efforts, and dynamic programing to illuminate the life and character of one of the most storied athletes of all time are all on the Museum’s agenda. “We are proud to realize Rachel Robinson’s dream of establishing a fixed tribute to her husband’s rich legacy,” said Della Britton Baeza, JRF’s President & CEO.  “Jackie Robinson’s contributions to our country propelled us through challenging social times and continue to encourage us to practice empathy and brotherhood toward others. The Jackie Robinson Museum will satisfy sports fans who will learn more about Jackie Robinson’s great accomplishments as an athlete and visitors of all walks of life who want to be inspired by a true humanitarian.”

Located in the heart of downtown Manhattan, just blocks north of the 9/11 Memorial, the Foundation has retained Gensler as Design Architect in collaboration with Ralph Appelbaum Associates, Exhibit Designer, to develop the Jackie Robinson Museum.

JRF has secured lead gifts from a diverse group of partners including:  Nike, Inc., Phil Knight, the Yawkey Foundation, the City of New York, New York Mets, Citi, Strada Education Network, Los Angeles Dodgers, Major League Baseball, the Tull Family Foundation, New York Yankees, and Stephen Ross. Half way to its $42 million fundraising goal, which is inclusive of a Museum operating endowment, the Foundation plans to open the Museum’s doors in the spring of 2019.   

JRF Welcomes Donations: visit www.jackierobinsonmuseum.org to support the Museum’s fundraising efforts.

About the Jackie Robinson Foundation

Established in 1973 to perpetuate Jackie Robinson’s memory, the Jackie Robinson Foundation (JRF), a national, public, non-profit organization, administers one of the nation’s premier education and leadership development programs for minority college students. In addition to generous financial assistance, JRF offers a comprehensive set of support services that includes mentoring, job placement, career guidance, leadership training and practical life skills. JRF’s celebrated four-year program yields a consistent, 98% college graduation rate. JRF has provided over $70 million in grants and direct program support to 1,500 students who have attended over 225 colleges and universities.

Harvard Design School Graduate Dana McKinney Merges Architecture and Social Justice

Architect Dana McKinney (photo via news.harvard.edu)

article by Christina Pazzanese via news.harvard.edu

When Dana McKinney was a girl, her family drove every week from their small town in Fairfield County, Conn., to Sunday dinner at her grandmother’s home in Newark, N.J. To a child who loved dance and art, the changing scenery on those trips revealed stark contrasts that stung of economic inequality.

“I was going back and forth between a very comfortable lifestyle in Connecticut to a very depressed environment in Newark and became really inspired to look at how people can affect the built environment,” McKinney said. “I want to be able to fix this! — That was my immediate reaction — I’ll be an architect!”

After studying architecture at Princeton University, McKinney went to Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) to earn master’s degrees in architecture and urban planning. It’s an unusual and demanding course of study, but one McKinney felt would merge her design work with her interest in social change, social justice, and the power of architecture to transform people’s lives.

“I want to make beautiful spaces and buildings, but I don’t want … the pitfall of only working with elite clients, and I think a lot of times architects end up serving a very high-income population. A majority of housing is done by developers in the U.S., [so] good architecture barely reaches outside a certain economic class,” McKinney said.

Much of her academic work has focused on institutional change: improving elderly housing and studying the effects from the abrupt closure in 2014 of a large homeless facility in Boston. But with one in four Newark residents likely to spend some time in prison, McKinney’s thesis focused on “sensible and sensitive” design alternatives to prison that would help break the cycle of incarceration and poverty.

It was an unconventional choice. When she put her idea before her faculty advisers, “I could hear the crickets in the room,” she said. But “by the end of it, they were all about it.” While McKinney doesn’t believe architecture alone can end homelessness or poverty or incarceration, she does believe the field has something important to offer.

“Everyone has a role in social development and in making sure that our society is a reflection of what we want it to be.”Indeed, though “spatial justice” is often thought of as an enterprise in the public realm, like the construction of parks and community centers, it’s not as frequently addressed in the private realm. Because housing is essential to well-being, McKinney hopes to eventually create spaces that promote not just equality, but equity. “Your self-worth and what you need to do well as a person starts with the safety and comfort you feel in your own home,” she explained.

Outside the classroom, McKinney has been active in bringing together African-American students at GSD and shining a spotlight on black women and men in a field where only 1 percent of architects are African-American. Having sometimes found herself one of only two black students in a class of 80, McKinney was among the earliest members of the African-American Student Union five years ago, serving last year as its president.

Continue reading

Yale University to Drop White Supremacist John Calhoun’s Name From Building

article by Noah Remnick via nytimes.com

After a swelling tide of protests, the president of Yale announced today that the university would change the name of a residential college commemorating John C. Calhoun, the 19th-century white supremacist statesman from South Carolina. The college will be renamed for Grace Murray Hopper, a trailblazing computer scientist and Navy rear admiral who received a master’s degree and a doctorate from Yale.

The decision was a stark reversal of the university’s decision last spring to maintain the name despite broad opposition. Though the president, Peter Salovey, said that he was still “concerned about erasing history,” he said that “these are exceptional circumstances.”

“I made this decision because I think it is the right thing to do on principle,” Mr. Salovey said on a conference call with reporters. “John C. Calhoun’s principles, his legacy as an ardent supporter of slavery as a positive good, are at odds with this university.”

Mr. Salovey and the other members of the Yale Corporation, the university’s governing body, made their decision after an advisory committee unanimously recommended the renaming. The school is still determining when exactly the change will be carried out, but Mr. Salovey said it would be by fall at the latest. Continue reading