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New Smithsonian African American history museum features Chicago artifacts

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Opening on Sept. 24, the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture will feature a number of artifacts from Chicago. (WLS)

Opening on Sept. 24, the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture will feature a number of artifacts from Chicago.

The museum is the Smithsonian's 19th, located on the National Mall near the Washington Monument. A century in the making, it cost $540 million and contains 36,000 artifacts that tell the complex tale of the African American experience, a quintessentially American story.

The visually-striking building is inspired by the three-tiered crowns seen in West African art. To understand the complex story that is the African American experience, you literally need to go beneath the surface; 60 percent of the museum's exhibits are underground.

The first and darkest chapter of the story is found there. On display are shackles, a slave cabin and a statue of Thomas Jefferson with the names of his slaves on the wall behind him.

"While America should ponder the pain of slavery and segregation, it also had to find the joy, the hope, the resilience, the spirituality that was endemic in this community," said Dr. Lonnie Bunch, founding director of the museum.

Bunch took the job after a stint as president of the Chicago Historical Society, joining up 10 years ago before there was even an official location or any items to put in the museum.

His outreach efforts helped bring in the astonishing number of artifacts, most family heirlooms donated by ordinary people.

"For me, so much of the history that is tied to America is tied to Chicago, so we talk about the impact of the Chicago Defender and the migration of blacks from the South to the North. But we also tell stories of spirituality. We talk about Quinn Chapel, for example, and give people those stories," Bunch said.

A grand ceremony will officially open the museum on Saturday, Sept. 24. President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will both attend, with the president scheduled to deliver remarks.

Related Topics:
societymuseumsbarack obamamichelle obamaAfrican Americansblack historyu.s. & worldWashington D.C.
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