|The monument depicts soldiers and|
sailors in motion. Their energy is infectious.
CC / WallyG
U street is a key historic community, the heart of Shaw and a community which has been historically black for over a century. Duke Ellington was born there. DC's African American populace found culture and formed community there in the early 20th century, in spite of segregation in the Nation's capitol. Where better to have a monument to honest, hard working Americans of African decent than in the heart of a community where their inspiration can reach out to a modern African-American community?
Starting this summer, the monument will be flanked by a real, professional museum to help buttress and support its interpretive mission. And that museum is opening in July of this year. And they are charging $200 per person to be there for the ribbon cutting.
In the end this is their right. The museum appears to be a private concern. The African-American Civil War Museum can charge an exorbitant fee for participation in their opening programs. It is their prerogative.
But is it wise? Are they preserving history through these actions, or segregating that history away from those who could benefit the most from its inspiration? Whose history is "black history" anyways?
|The invitation to the event as it appears on the|
museum's website. Click to enlarge.
|Could this sailor have scraped together $11 |
(the 1863 equivalent value) to attend
the opening of the museum?
CC / WallyG
Who cares if I, a short, fat white boy from New York, can see the African-American Civil War Museum? I can afford the price if I tried hard enough. If there is an admission fee for the museum, I'll eventually pay it. I care about black history. I see black history as my history too. But I don't need to learn those lessons which can be taught by these men who risked all for freedom. I already have.
I want to see the public history profession preaching to the congregation and not simply the choir.
I want a poor mother of a few kids barely scraping by in some obscure corner of DC to take her family to this place and draw strength from it. I want a homeless man to stumble in off the street and draw inspiration to try again at bettering his life because that's what these men did, again and again, in the face of insurmountable odds. I want a penniless college student, working minimum wage jobs to put themselves through school to think that if those men could face such cruelty and unfairness, maybe they might be able to continue on too. I want everyone, white or black, rich or poor, young or old to have access to this story everywhere it lives in America because it's their history. Anything short and I think we've failed as a society and as public historians.
So, I won't be taking a day off for the grand opening of the museum. I'll be sitting at my desk instead, probably listening to the soundtrack of Glory and daydreaming about those men who inspire me everyday to keep moving forward. They'll be marching across my consciousness. I'll make it to U-Street to see the museum soon, after the expensive hullabaloo is all over. And you can bet there will be a review right here. I hope against all else it will be a positive one.
Next week, I'll try to bring this question of who should have the right to lock up history a bit closer to home. Sometimes it's not cash that stands in the way, but a simple iron gate.
|CC / Kevin H.|