The National Museum of African American History and Culture takes center stage on ABC Television tonight. The network will air “Taking the Stage: African American Music and Stories that Changed America”on ABC stations nationwide at 9 pm EST/8 pm CST.
Filmed live at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as part of the Grand Opening celebration of the Museum, the program features an all-star tribute of music, dance, and spoken word on the African American experience. Oprah Winfrey, Stevie Wonder, Mary J. Blige, and Tom Hanks are among the many artists who participated in the program, which includes a special salute to the Tuskegee Airmen.
The special will feature new film footage of iconic items from the museum’s collections – items ranging from a plane used to train the famed Tuskegee airmen for World War II combat duty to a bible owned by Nat Turner. The film is accompanied by music, dance and dramatic readings by a wide range of stage and screen actors.
When you have as much star power and influence as Denzel Washington and Pauletta Washington, and it’s put to good use, amazing things happen. While Barack Obama was giving his final White House Correspondents’ dinner speech Saturday night, the Washingtons were throwing a lavish party with some of Hollywood’s biggest names, all in support of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opens later this year.
The fundraiser was an effort to secure the final monies needed for the museum, and needless to say, when the Washingtons put out a call, their friends have no problem donating. The museum’s total cost amounts to $540 million, and so far, the government has contributed $270 million with the remainder coming in from events like the Washingtons’.
According to Variety, Saturday night’s soiree raised $17 million and included a pledge of $10 million from Shonda Rhimes.
“There is such a historical significance to this project,’’ said Denzel Washington. “It means so much for our community, our country and to future generations.’’
Magic Johnson closed the event with words that I’m sure resonated with everyone in attendance. “We have to get everyone involved in this, making this a success,’’ said Johnson.
Microsoft Corp. has donated $1 million to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opens this fall after five years of construction.
“The stories, art and culture of African Americans are vibrant and important narratives in our nation’s history,” said Fred Humphries, corporate vice president of U.S. government affairs for Microsoft. “Microsoft is proud to support the museum and bring these perspectives to life in a powerful and enriching experience.”
The Museum of African American and History and Culture will be the Smithsonian’s 19th museum. It will open to the public Sept. 24 with 11 inaugural exhibitions covering major periods of African American history, including the slave trade, segregation, the civil rights movement, the Harlem Renaissance and the election of the nation’s first African American president.
Millions of African Americans will soon be able to trace their families through the era of slavery, some to the countries from which their ancestors were snatched, thanks to a new and free online service that is digitizing a huge cache of federal records for the first time.
Handwritten records collecting information on newly freed slaves that were compiled just after the civil war will be available for easy searches through a new website, it was announced on Friday.
The records belong to the Freedmen’s Bureau, an administrative body created by Congress in 1865 to assist slaves in 15 states and the District of Columbia transition into free citizenship.
Before that time, slaves were legally regarded as property in the US and their names were not officially documented. They often appeared only as dash marks – even on their owners’ records.
African Americans trying to trace family history today regularly hit the research equivalent of a brick wall prior to 1870, when black people were included in the US census for the first time.
Now a major project run by several organisations is beginning to digitise the 1.5 million handwritten records from the Freedmen’s Bureau, which feature more than four million names and are held by various federal bodies, for full online access.
All the records are expected to be online by late 2016, to coincide with the opening of the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington.
Hollis Gentry, a genealogy specialist at the Smithsonian, said at the announcement of the project in Los Angeles on Friday: “The records serve as a bridge to slavery and freedom. You can look at some of the original documents that were created at the time when these people were living. They are the earliest records detailing people who were formerly enslaved. We get a sense of their voice, their dreams.”
Gentry also said it could help people now find living relatives on their family tree, as well as records of forebears.
“I predict we’ll see millions of living people find living relatives they never knew existed. That will be a tremendous blessing and a wonderful, healing experience,” Gentry said.
The Freedmen’s Bureau made records that include marriages and church and financial details as well as full names, dates of birth and histories of slave ownership.
They have been available for access by the public in Washington, but only in person by searching through hundreds of pages of handwritten documents.
The project to put the documents online is a collaboration involving the Smithsonian, the National Archives, the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, the California African American Museum and FamilySearch. The last-named body is a large online genealogy organisation run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – otherwise known as the Mormon church, based in Salt Lake City.
Volunteers will help to digitize the handwritten records and they will be added to the website as they become available. The website is discoverfreedmen.org.
The announcement was made by FamilySearch and some of the project partners in Los Angeles on Friday, the 150th anniversary of “Juneteenth”, the oldest known celebration of the ending of slavery which commemorates 19 June 1865, the day when it is believed that the last slaves held in US ownership were told of their emancipation.
Sharon Leslie Morgan, founder of Our Black Ancestry Foundation, an organization that provides research for African American genealogical research, said the indexing was important for history and for today. “In order for us to deal with contemporary issues that we have today – racism, black boys being shot down in the streets – you have to confront the past,” she told USA Today.
“The land was stolen from the Native Americans. The labour was provided for free by African slaves. The entire foundation of American capitalism is based on slavery, on a free labour market. People don’t want to deal with that, and you have to.”
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture will display objects from a slave ship that sank off the coast of Cape Town in 1794, it announced today.
The artifacts were retrieved this year from the wreck site of a Portuguese slave ship that sank on its way to Brazil while carrying more than 400 enslaved Africans from Mozambique. Objects recovered from the ship, called the São José-Paquete de Africa, include iron ballasts used to weigh the ship down and copper fastenings that held the structure of the ship together.
Lonnie G. Bunch III, the director of the African American history museum, said in a statement that the ship “represents one of the earliest attempts to bring East Africans into the trans-Atlantic slave trade”.
“This discovery is significant because there has never been archaeological documentation of a vessel that foundered and was lost while carrying a cargo of enslaved persons,” he said.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture is currently under construction in Washington and scheduled to be completed in the fall.
The objects from the slave ship are to be on a long-term loan to the Smithsonian from the Iziko Museums of South Africa. Officials have known the site of the wreck for a number of years and suspected the ship was a slave ship, but research only recently confirmed it.
About half of the people on board the ship died when it sank. Others made it to shore but were sold back into slavery, according to the Smithsonian.
I am looking at plans of the presidential palace in Libreville, Gabon, as existing and as proposed. The first shows gates, walls, guardhouses, accommodation for the president’s elite soldiers. The second shows public space, welcome zones, trees, landscaping, the elements of enlightened contemporary city planning. It is a diagram of liberalisation, of a new era assisted by design.
I am also looking at an image of a business school in Moscow, an unabashed work of oligarchic bling, that pre-empts its future rediscovery as a piece of ironic-lovable kitsch. There is a cool, white, slatted structure in an idyllic Mediterranean landscape, apartment blocks in Doha, and a composition of 10 inverted cones, to be arranged in a giant circle in Kampala. These are works of a realigned world, where the distribution of money and power ignores former distinctions of third and first worlds. They collectively offer the same reorientation as those world maps that dispense with the Eurocentric bias of Mercator’s projection.
The location is a black-floored, black-walled office on the edge of Marylebone, London, with shelves of black files with small white lettering. Galvanised steel shelves denote work, but a black, oblong pool of water, bright green curtains, and an impressive bunch of lilies suggest more an exclusive club or hotel. Possibly the lair of a Bond villain, only more benign. Architectural models are displayed like artworks, although inopportune beige printers puncture the stylishness. The entrance to the office, as often in David Adjaye’s projects, is barely perceptible.
Adjaye is late, as he often is, but is then generous with his time, as he also often is. He says something nice about my personal life, as I make to sit down in the Eames chair by his desk. “Er, that’s mine,” he then says, directing me to a plywood seat opposite, which turns out to be a touch excruciating, in front of shelves bearing a discriminating selection of architectural books, and opposite a wall of inspirational images – great buildings, beautiful bodies, maps of Africa, the former model Ashley Shaw-Scott, whom he recently married. “Do you mind if I eat?” he asks, as he uncovers a late lunch from a local curry house, “I have to eat.” He is on the move, as usual. Where has he come from? “Just New York.” Diplomacy and charm are at work here and a tiny assertion of status, which have helped get him where is, but the warmth is also genuine.
New York is where he has another office, a more informal, light-filled place above an old bank on Canal Street. He has a third in Accra. This tri-continental practice is not bad for an architect in his 40s who seven years ago, when the credit crunch hit, nearly went bust, but the nature of the commissions is more impressive. He has a knack for projects freighted with significance, the foremost of which is the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture on the highly charged turf of the National Mall in Washington DC, just across from the Washington Memorial. (To be more precise, Adjaye is one of a team of four architectural practices working on the museum, with his role described as “lead designer”.) It is due to open next year, a century after the idea of such a museum was first mooted by some black veterans of the civil war.
He also has a knack for associating with conspicuous and interesting people. In the early years of his practice these tended to be creative types – the artists Jake Chapman, Tom Noble and Sue Webster, Ewan McGregor, Alexander McQueen. Now it is more people like Kofi Annan, the former secretary-general of the United Nations, for whom Adjaye has designed a house in Ghana. Or the new mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, who recently toured Adjaye’s housing development in Sugar Hill, Harlem, or Barack Obama.
He doesn’t want the latter connection to be exaggerated – “I am not on his speed dial” – and he scotches rumours that he is to design Obama’s presidential library: the choice of architect hasn’t been considered yet. But the Smithsonian museum will be the most significant architectural project of Obama’s presidency, and Adjaye has had more contact with the White House than most architects.
Adjaye’s friends praise the range of his influences and interests. “I was incredibly, incredibly inspired by the breadth of his vision,” says Thelma Golden, director of the Studio Museum in Harlem, of the time she first heard him speak. “There’s Bauhaus in it,” says the artist Lorna Simpson, for whom Adjaye designed a studio building in Brooklyn, “but also the places where he grew up as a child – ornament, pattern, the way light comes in, different things from different places.”
Adjaye was born in Tanzania to Ghanaian parents, his father a diplomat, so these formative places included parts of Africa, Saudi Arabia, and eventually London. It was in London that he studied architecture, launched his practice, and designed his first projects.