Planning a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture?
Five smart lists for pre- and post-game reading
We go to museums to learn, but sometimes it helps to have a little background information. It’s also good to know where to go after a museum visit, when our curiosity is piqued. I asked five people what material one should one explore to prep for a visit to the just-opened National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
“I actually don’t think people need to read anything before going to the museum; rather … it should work the other way around — people should visit the museum and discover things they want to read more about, and then do a deep dive after they leave. The museum is something that should serve as an educational resource to start conversations, not something you already need to be an expert to encounter. That said, a couple of books people can read to learn more after they’ve visited the museum would be Soul Food by Adrian Miller to learn about the food artifacts displayed on the fourth floor, and The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson to learn more about the Great Migration.”
Some of the most important books to read are:
When Affirmative Action Was White by Ira Katznelson
American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass by Nancy A. Denton
Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. DuBois
The Black Towns by Norman Crockett
Disturbed About Man by Benjamin E. Mays
MARCH, a graphic novel trilogy about U.S. Rep. John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
“A museum is only a cheat sheet. You can’t get a complete history or really anything from a visit to a museum. So if you go and you find there are some things about slavery you didn’t know, then maybe you go read From Slavery to Freedom or you read Roots. If you decide that you’d like to learn more about the Black Panther Party then you can go forward and watch Vanguard of the Revolution or read books about the party. The best way would be to go and see what collections inspire you and take your reading cues from there. There is no major facet of African-American experience in this country that is not touched upon in the museum in some way shape or form … The museum does a really great job of reflecting the role of women’s leadership and activism and creativity over the history of African-Americans in this country in a way that I haven’t seen before. There are your usual suspects, your Rosa Parks and your Ida B. Wells, but then you also have the hatmakers, the social organization leaders, the National Council of Negro Women, they did such a great a job keeping it as close to 50/50 as possible.”
— Jamilah Lemieux is vice president, news and men’s programming at Interactive One.
“[In the museum] I was excited to see a lot of nuance, a lot of disturbing paradigms that often don’t get questioned. I saw a lot of study and thought behind the way things were done and the way things were presented. So it’s subtle — I don’t think it’s something that everybody would see, but I think it’s impactful on everyone because it really does decenter some of our comfortable tropes of African-American history.”
Worst than Slavery: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice by David Oshinsky
To ‘Joy My Freedom by Tera Hunter
New Day in Babylon: The Black Power Movement and American Culture, 1965-1975 by William L. Van Deburg
Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party by Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin, Jr.
The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America by Khalil Gibran Muhammad
Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920 by Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham
— Blair L.M. Kelley is the assistant dean for interdisciplinary studies and an associate professor of history at North Carolina State University. She is the author of Right to Ride: Streetcar Boycotts and African American Citizenship in the Era of Plessy v. Ferguson.