Celebrating the Past, Present, and Future of the African-American Experience

The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture (NMAAHC), the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African-American life, history, and culture, will officially open its doors on Sept 24. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute President Shirley Ann Jackson is one of several notable guests who will speak during the grand opening dedication ceremony for the museum.

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September 22, 2016

Celebrating the Past, Present, and Future of the African-American Experience

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute President Shirley Ann Jackson To Speak at National Museum of African American History & Culture Dedication Ceremony Sept. 24

Troy, N.Y. — The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture (NMAAHC), the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African-American life, history, and culture, will officially open its doors on Sept 24. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute President Shirley Ann Jackson is one of several notable guests who will speak during the grand opening dedication ceremony for the museum.

NMAAHC was established by an act of Congress in 2003, establishing it as part of the Smithsonian Institution, following decades of efforts to promote and highlight the contributions of African-Americans.

The NMAAHC is a public institution open to all, where anyone is welcome to participate, collaborate, and learn more about African-American history and culture, according to the pillars upon which NMAAHC stands. In the words of Lonnie G. Bunch III, founding director of the NMAAHC, “there are few things as powerful and as important as a people, as a nation that is steeped in its history. This is America’s story and this museum is for all Americans.”

The Smithsonian Board of Regents, the governing body of the Institution, voted in January 2006 to build the museum on a five-acre site on Constitution Avenue between 14th and 15th streets N.W. The site is between the Washington Monument and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. When the NMAAHC opens, it will be the 19th and newest museum of the Smithsonian Institution.                        

 “We have furthered the Smithsonian’s founding mission, to promote ‘the increase and diffusion of knowledge,’ by opening a museum dedicated to the African-American experience in the United States, and its crucial place in the American experience,” said President Jackson, who also serves as vice chair for the Smithsonian Board of Regents.

The museum’s 12 inaugural exhibitions will focus on broad themes of history (slavery and freedom, segregation, and 1968 and beyond), culture and community (power of place, sports, military history, and an exhibit titled “Making a Way Out of No Way”), music, cultural expressions, and visual arts. To date, the museum has collected more than 36,000 artifacts.

The outdoor ceremony begins with a “gathering and musical prelude” at 9:30 a.m. The dedication of the newest museum is set for 10:30 a.m. The ceremony will be live-streamed on the Internet at nmaahc.si.edu.

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, along with former President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush, will join members of Congress, the Supreme Court, and visitors from across the country on the National Mall during the ceremony.

Dedication ceremony speakers include President Obama; Smithsonian Secretary David Skorton, who received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree during Rensselaer’s 210th Commencement Ceremony; Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.), a veteran of the civil rights struggle of the 1960s, who received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree during Rensselaer’s 207th Commencement Ceremony; former President  George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush; Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts Jr., chancellor of the Smithsonian, along with President Jackson, and NMAAHC Founding Director Lonnie Bunch. 

The opening will be the focus of a week-long celebration that begins with a dedication ceremony. The celebration continues with extended visiting hours and a three-day festival showcasing popular music, literature, dance, and film. Also planned are events co-hosted by other museums around the country and in Africa. Museum officials said they expect about 20,000 people to attend the opening and related events.

“The opening of the National Museum of African American History & Culture and the future of natural history museums in the 21st century are subjects of great relevance to Rensselaer faculty and students, given our leadership in technologies with the potential to transform the museum experience, including cognitive and immersive systems, and data science and visualization,” President Jackson noted. 

For example, last month Rensselaer hosted Dr. Kirk Johnson, the Sant Director of the world-renowned Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, whose noted career as a paleontologist has seen him lead expeditions in 11 countries and 19 states, resulting in the discovery of more than 1,400 fossil sites. Johnson was invited by President Jackson to speak to members of the campus and local community on “Natural History Museums in the 21st Century.”

During her tenure at Rensselaer, President Jackson has led a transformation of the university’s pedagogical and research approach under the construct of The New Polytechnic, an emerging paradigm for teaching, learning, and research at the Institute. The foundation for this vision is the recognition that global challenges and opportunities are so great they cannot be adequately addressed by even the most talented person working alone. Rensselaer serves as a crossroads for collaboration—working with partners across disciplines, sectors, and geographic regions—to address complex global challenges, using the most advanced tools and technologies, many of which are developed at Rensselaer. Research at Rensselaer addresses some of the world’s most pressing technological challenges—from energy security and sustainable development to biotechnology and human health. The New Polytechnic is transformative in the global impact of research, in its innovative pedagogy, and in the lives of students at Rensselaer.

“Without a serious examination of African-American history and culture, such as this museum is designed to enable, the Smithsonian could not achieve its great goal of ‘understanding the American experience,’ and of helping others to appreciate our grand American panoply,” President Jackson said.

About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1824, is America’s first technological research university. The university offers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in engineering; the sciences; information technology and web sciences; architecture; management; and the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Rensselaer faculty advance research in a wide range of fields, with an emphasis on biotechnology, nanotechnology, computational science and engineering, data science, and the media arts and technology. The Institute is has an established record of success in the transfer of technology from the laboratory to the marketplace, fulfilling its founding mission of applying science “to the common purposes of life.” For more information, please visit http://www.rpi.edu

Note

On September 24, join the social media discussion and journey through the lens of the African-American experience during the opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History & Culture (NMAAHC), follow @NMAACH and @RPInews using the hashtag #APeoplesJourney.