By Dr. E. Faye Williams
As an African-American, I was overjoyed to learn there would be an African- American History and Culture Museum on the National Mall. Without question, the truth of our story needs to be told. Some may choose to blame our challenges on us; but, when I gave my donations for building “The Museum,” I knew the purpose was to finally let our light shine. We can be proud to have survived the pain and indignity of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, continuing discrimination and every conceivable form of bigotry; and, despite those trials, we thrive and grow while leaving a myriad of accomplishments along the pathway of our history.
Since I support Wal-Mart employees seeking justice in pay and working conditions, I chose not to enter “The Museum” on opening day. Even Wal-Mart’s prominent role in support of the museum couldn’t compel me to act hypocritically and allow that corporation to welcome me into OUR Museum. I’ve gotten ahead of myself, but I thought that bit of information was important for the reader to understand why I didn’t respond positively to my special invitation to be there.
I did, however, think it was important to witness the occasion because I know of the commitment and hard work devoted by many in order to bring “The Museum” to reality. While my conscience wouldn’t allow me to go inside on opening day, I walked to “The Museum” and sat on the grass over 2 blocks away with people who might never be able to go inside. Opening day was beautiful with a cool breeze reminiscent of a Caribbean beach. Initially, there was sunshine. Clouds came later, but without rain. They kept the temperature great.
As the ceremony began, we experienced a musical journey to the land of our ancestors through the angelic singing voices of a group of African sisters. Their song urged us to free ourselves from mental slavery and to reconnect with our history and culture – our common source of strength. Two white women passed by wearing the whitest clothing. I commented that they were too dressed-up to sit on the grass, but they laughed and said, “It’s such a beautiful day for ALL of US!” – obviously suggesting that some whites also assumed ‘ownership’ of the greatness of the occasion.
People talk about weddings, birthdays and graduations being the proudest days of their lives. I’ve had all of those, but they can’t touch the pride I felt on that day while sitting on the grass of The Mall. Like a protective cocoon, people surrounded “The Museum” in every direction. This reminded me of President Obama’s Inauguration. Attendees – walking, in wheel chairs and some limping with the infirmities of age – were there to witness the occasion and, with their presence, protect the sanctity of the event.
This was a day to be truly proud of our African heritage! Patty LaBelle blessed us with “Change Gonna Come.” Stevie Wonder blessed us again with “Where is Our Love Song?” and told us that history has shown that we can rise. Oprah, Will Smith, John Lewis, George Bush, President Obama and others delivered messages of uplift and hope. I thank God that we now have “The Museum” to showcase a portion of the richness of our people’s struggles and accomplishments. We have a small place to tell OUR great stories and a platform upon which we can nurture even greater vision for our future. We have a sanctuary from the mindless distraction of reality TV and pursuits that cause us to defer our dreams. I pray that “The Museum” will become the nexus of an increasingly meaningful history which will amplify the greatness of the history we have already created!
Dr. E. Faye Williams, Esq. is President and CEO of the National Congress of Black Women. www.nationalcongressbw.org. 202/678-6788