Long-Awaited African-American History and Culture Museum Set to Open
LESTER HOLT, anchor:
The African-American story is the American story, yet as the planners of this long-desired museum would discover, it is one not easily told. I think a lot of people probably wonder to themselves, what took so long.
LONNIE BUNCH (National Museum of African-American History and Culture): I think part of it was that, candidly in order to tell this story, we had to be comfortable looking at America and all of its faults. And I'm not always sure Americans are ready for that.
HOLT: The starting point of this remarkable journey is slavery, from the iron shackles that bound captives during the long ocean crossings, to a slave cabin from South Carolina. A guiding principle at the Museum of African-American History and Culture says its director Lonnie Bunch, is to tell the unvarnished truth.
BUNCH: We're standing in front of a statue of Thomas Jefferson. And behind Jefferson are bricks that represent the 600 people that he owned during his life.
HOLT: So I see names. All those are the names of slaves that Jefferson owned?
BUNCH: What we wanted to do in this museum was to humanize people.
HOLT: The sprawling museum began construction four and a half years ago costing over $500 million dollars. It tells an uneven story from segregation and the turbulent '60s
BUNCH: We thought that 1968 was so transformative in terms of the black power movement, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Resurrection City, the fight against Vietnam.
HOLT: To the first African-American president, to today's racial tensions over police use of force.
BUNCH: This is not a linear march to progress. What we wanted to do was to say the struggle to help America be America will continue as long as there is an America.
HOLT: The incredible African-American influence on sports, music and culture is seen throughout the museum. Muhammad Ali's head gear from the 5th Street Gym. Chuck Berry's Cadillac. Look at that. His Horn.
BUNCH: Yup. This is the Mothership from George Clinton that was really important to many people. I think I got more questions about this than anything else.
HOLT: One piece of the TV exhibit posed a particular challenge to the curators - how to recognize Bill Cosby.
BUNCH: It was important to recognize that the allegations have damaged his legacy and so that's what we wanted to do.
HOLT: And you included that down here in the last sentence.
BUNCH: Right. That his career has been severely damaged and this has damaged his reputation.
HOLT: This newest Smithsonian museum offers a prominent and poignant vantage point along the Washington mall.
BUNCH: We'll tell the fact that there were slave pens not too far from here.
HOLT: But it is its view of an often untold American story that curators hope will open eyes.
BUNCH: If you're interested in American notions of optimism or spirituality or our notions of liberty, this is the place to look.
HOLT: The museum opens its doors September 24th.