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African American History will soon complete the National Mall
By Amen Oyiboke, Staff Writer
Published October 31, 2014

Lonnie G. Bunch III and Karen Grigsby Bates discuss the importance of Black history preservation and the importance of museums.

Courtesy of Town Hall Los Angeles

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Director of the Smithsonian African American Museum, Lonnie G. Bunch III discusses the impact of Black history shaping America

Town Hall Los Angeles hosted a topic discussion on Oct. 22 about the impact of Black California shaping America and museums with founding director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Lonnie G. Bunch III and NPR West correspondent Karen Grisby Bates at the City Club Los Angeles.

More than 50 business professionals gathered in City Club’s banquet hall to converse about the influence and contributions of African American culture in U.S. history and in California. The topic runs timely to the approaching 2015 50th anniversary of both the Voting Rights Act and the Watts Riots. These anniversaries coincide heavily with the racial issues now seen in every day American life.

Those very issues will soon be documented and displayed in the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture in 2016 when the museum opens on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.  It will be the nation’s largest and most comprehensive cultural institution devoted to African American history. 

“This museum is trying to say that it’s not building institutions of Black history for Black people.  The reality is the African American experience is the quintessential experience. It has shaped all of us in profound ways. When we think about the promise of American life, so much of that promise is shaped from this community,” said Lonnie G. Bunch III.

Bunch was appointed in 2005 to take on the tasks of overseeing the creation of museum. He has developed exhibitions, public programs and coordinated the museum’s fundraising and budget development.

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Created by an Act of Congress in 2003, the museum will feature a variety of exhibits and educational programs on topics such as slavery, post-Civil War reconstruction, the civil rights movement and the transition of the digital age with African Americans.

“We created a system called ‘How We Know’ where there will be various stations in the museum to show different exhibitions of how we gather digital information now and help people understand how we gather history today. It’s an important component in what we do,” said Bunch. “So, what we found that although everyone wants to see digital things they still want the physical evidence. The challenge in the digital age is that everything is disposal and lasts forever. We have to gather all of which is disposal and forever lasting.”

The museum’s total cost is estimated to be $500 million and Bunch has raised $430 million already. Thanks to donors like Oprah Winfrey, who gave $13 million to build the new museum, funding for the museums could possibly reach its goal before the completion date.

“This museum shows that American history isn’t complete without the history of African Americans. American history is African American history. It’s not just the realization of the facts, but it’s the importance of knowing that the past matters and contributes to who we are,” said civil rights activist Constance L. Rice.

The critical role of the new museum is pressing the need of knowledge for African American history. Tools learned from historic teachings and museums could bring better comprehension of current racial issues.

“This museum is a part of the national narrative. You cannot talk about America being what it is and what it has become without appreciation or the prosecution of African Americans historically and socially. This museum is going to tell that story,” said L.A. County Board of Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas.

The museum has stated that it encourages people to see it as a beacon that reminds everyone who we are; what challenges we will face; and point us towards what we shall become.

“The goal of the museum is to make America proud,” said Bunch.

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