Today, the National Museum of African American History and Culture ( NMAAHC ), part of the Smithsonian Museums in Washington, DC, opens to the public. I’m looking forward to visiting this institution dedicated to telling the story of a people, their struggles and triumphs. I have written before about the prejudice of members of my family that transferred to me and which I’m still confronting, at times.
In fall of 2014, my spouse and I went on a driving tour through the south to visit some of the important civil rights sites and museums in Memphis, Selma, Montgomery, and Birmingham. When I go to important places in the civil rights struggle, I want to see, to be sad, to reflect, to learn. Yes, even at times to have my gut wrenched.
I do not go to feel guilty. The National Coalition Building Institute has a saying: “Guilt is the glue that holds prejudice in place.” The more civil rights memorials and museums I go to and stories I read and hear, the more I feel able to do the work of understanding and evaluating my own attitudes. I also don’t leave the burden on African Americans to explain it to me.
As a storyteller who wants to create diverse worlds, the journey through the history of African Americans is a helpful process. And as I strive to move readers, I benefit from being moved.
Both my husband and I trace our ancestries through documents showing that at least one of our relatives sold one human being to another. What African Americans have experienced is not something they as a people should just ‘get over.’ We would never consider telling World War II or Vietnam veterans to ‘just get over’ the wars they experienced that changed their lives forever.
The history experienced by African Americans is our collective and painful history. As we move into the future, institutions like the National Museum of African American History and Culture help us build that future without denying our past.