The National Museum of African American History and Culture [NMAAHC] kicked off the countdown to the Museum’s grand opening in the fall of 2016 with a three-night video illumination presentation.
The “Commemorate and Celebrate Freedom” event commenced on Monday, Nov. 16 at the NMAAHC in Northwest paying tribute to three milestones in African-American history.
“Years ago this was a dream. Tonight we celebrate the realization of that dream,” Lonnie Bunch, founding director of NMAAHC said.
“We celebrate freedom, the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, the ratification of the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery, what historians call America’s original sin, and the anniversary of the pivotal Voting Rights Act of 1965.”
“This building has a simple message and that is to pay homage to the fact that so much of our history is hidden in plain sight,” he said.
In February of 2012, the NMAAHC broke ground on the five-acre tract adjacent to the Washington Monument with luminaries such as President Barack Obama, First Lady Laura Bush and former District mayor Vincent Gray.
Over the next 10 months the museum will have the interior completed and exhibitions installed. It will be open to the public in September of 2016.
“We are one step closer to seeing a people’s rich history come alive and well,” Mayor Bowser said. “I’m so looking forward to the doors opening so that District residents can see their history.”
“For more than two centuries, Washington, DC has played a pivotal role in African-American history,” she said. “We stand in the shadows of buildings largely constructed by slaves.”
Bowser asserted that when the District freed the enslaved a year before the Emancipation Proclamation, many of those freed men and women remained, giving way to the District being a predominantly-Black city by the mid-twentieth century.
“Our city is a political town, but we are known for more than Congress,” Bowser said. “U Street was once known as the ‘Black Broadway.’ Duke Ellington, Pearl Bailey and Marvin Gaye all got their start here.”
“Even in the education sphere we continue to be the proud home of Howard University,” she said. “We must remember our struggle and champion our progress.”
The live outdoor program included a seven-minute video comprised of historic images from slavery, Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era. The state-of-the-art digital projection imagery, shown on the south and west exterior, transformed the five-story-tall structure into a one-block-long 3-D canvas.
“This will be a dynamic event for the entire community,” Bunch said. “In addition to celebrating the completion of the external construction of the Museum, the image mapping will also initiate the public countdown to the museum’s grand opening in fall 2016.”
The video display will run continuously from 5:30 to 9: 30 p.m. on Nov. 16 -18.
The program featured performances by Grammy award-winning gospel vocalist BeBe Winans, the Soulful Symphony and the Heritage Signature Chorale.
The event also included the readings of work from poets Robert Hayden, Margaret Walker and the writings of historical figures such as Ella Baker, Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison.
“This is an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate historic moments where the African-American experience has had an impact on expanding the rights and freedoms of all Americans,” Bunch said.
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton praised Bunch for his work as director of NMAAHC.
“When it comes to building an institution, it is seldom we have the whole package in one person,” Norton said. “In Lonnie Bunch, we had the professionalism to build this museum from the outside, and he has made history.”
Norton asserts that her great grandfather, Richard Holmes, had been a slave who escaped from a Virginia plantation making the moment even more extraordinary.
“In 2003 when Congress authorized the act we didn’t foresee that the Museum would open during the Civil War anniversary,” she said. “However, as if on historical cue, what we are witnessing is not only a monumental achievement, but a place [the museum] that gives life to the dream once denied.”