Friday, Sept. 24, will mark the fourth anniversary of the much-heralded and long-awaited grand opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) — the nation’s largest and most comprehensive cultural destination devoted exclusively to exploring, documenting and showcasing the African-American story and its impact on both American and world history.
But another recent occurrence lends itself to further celebration as the museum reopened its doors to the public on Sept. 18 following a monthslong shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
And with public health concerns and the safety of visitors and staff still guiding the decisions of the museum’s leaders, it has reopened with new standards that allow patrons to experience the venue in a more intimate setting.
Beverly Morgan-Welch, associate director for external affairs for the museum, described the recent opening as a “trial run,” initiated after months of daily meetings with “enterprises, members and donors.”
“Everyone has stepped up and contributed to a safe reopening which has required virtual meetings and phone calls almost every day,” she said. “Visitors won’t be able to experience the total breadth of the museum as some exhibits will remain temporarily closed as will our retail stores. But we’ll be able to accommodate up to 1,100 visitors on a daily basis.”
“Clearly, we’re excited to see people finally come through our doors again. Seeing them boosts our confidence and confirms that what we do — what we’re doing — matters. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve added a lot of resources that can be accessed and studied online so that even students can learn about and enjoy our extensive collection.”
One visitor who joined hundreds of others on the first day of the museum’s reopening was a native New Yorker who had never been to the venue.
“I felt like a kid in the candy store,” said Jerry White, 57, who lives in the Bronx. “It was amazing, highly educational and more than I could have imagined. As I approached the museum, its exterior, fashioned in the shape of a ship which transported slaves from freedom in Africa to the Americas, really caused me to reflect on our history as Blacks.”
“There was so much to see and experience, that there’s no way I could ever say which exhibit I enjoyed the most. But the collection of Black contributions to the world of music, literature and dance was truly inspiring. I had no idea how much our people have given to this country and to the world,” White said.
Morgan-Welch shared her perspectives in response to Donald Trump’s recent pledge to enable more intensive exposure to and studies more reflective of “pro-American history.”
“We were once slaves in American history — the last group included in this country’s lens,” she said. “Yet, there’s nothing more quintessential to this republic’s story than African-American history. It is a history that’s challenging — even horrific — and since we opened our doors four years ago, we’ve accepted and remained focused on this museum’s charge to tell the unvarnished truth. That’s still both our mission and our duty,” she said.
The NMAAHC will be closed on Monday and Tuesday and open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Visitors will be required to obtain free, timed entry passes, available on the museum’s website at nmaahc.si.edu/visit/passes.