Wednesday, February 22, 2012

National Museum of African American History and Culture Breaks Ground Today

Design concept for NMAAHC building.
On Presidents Day, I decided to visit a new exhibitition at the National Museum of American History (NMAH). Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty is located on the second floor and is open until October 14, 2012. The exhibit examines individual slaves and the families of slaves who worked on properties under Thomas Jefferson's ownership -- all in and around Monticello. Through fairly detailed family mapping charts, artifacts, and photographs, the exhibit explores familial connections between those who were Jefferson's slaves (as much as we know), including individual people as well as slave family connections to the President himself.

I've been to Monticello many times and appreciate all they have done to illuminate the man, his philosophy, his home/personal life, and his place in American history regarding the office of the President. I am also glad to see near a complete focus on the actual slaves this time, as opposed to treating them as the backdrop to Jefferson's success and rise to prominence. 12 of the first 18 Presidents of the United States owned slaves, 8 while in office. We should be so lucky to scrutinize this aspect of their lives in such detail, and in the public realm.

Although housed in NMAH, the exhibition is a joint venture between Monticello and the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC.) The National Mall's newest edition will have a groundbreaking today at 10:00AM. The $500 million dollar project is on track for completion in 2015 and they're still seeking private funds (covering about half) towards design and construction costs.

Two years ago I wrote about the designs being considered for the museum. This outstanding design from the Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup was chosen.

The site is the southwest corner at the intersection of 14th and Constitution NW; almost between the NMAH and the Washington Monument. Here's the approximate spot on Google Maps. This is the site of the groundbreaking today. Exciting news that I don't suppose will be replicated anytime soon. There are no solid plans for another Smithsonian on the Mall at this time and I don't foresee any for the near future. If you are able to attend the groundbreaking, keep me updated or send photos to me at @The42BusDC.