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New Museum Likely to Have a Catalytic Effect On African American Storytelling

Monday, September 19, 2016

By Janelle Carter Brevard
IMLS Director of Communications and Government Affairs

One of my earliest memories growing up in Mississippi was of my family moving into a new house, the very home where my parents still live today. Back then, our move was a monumental moment as my parents had worked hard and saved their money – even having our family of five live in a small two-bedroom apartment for a while – so they could purchase the brick colonial in a neighborhood where African Americans were still a rarity.

Shortly after the moving boxes arrived, our dreams were shattered when a local official informed my father that the Ku Klux Klan was unhappy with our move and planned to come to our house. I was only five years old but the story resonates with me today as a key part of my experience and story as an African American.

Family Photo - Janelle Carter Brevard 

Pictured: The author is on the far left, followed by sister Joy and brother J.B. III. Her parents, Mary and J.B. Carter Jr. are on the front row.

This week, the stories of African-American experiences, struggles and triumphs come into even greater focus with Saturday’s opening of the National Museum for African American History and Culture and the anticipated ripple effect it’s expected to have on African-American museums across the country.

One member of our National Museum and Library Services Board, Dr. Robert Wedgeworth put it to me bluntly, “This new concentration will call attention to the existence of all of the other collections across the nation.”

Another board member, Dr. Lawrence J. Pijeaux Jr., added, “The opening of the National Museum for African American History and Culture adds to the credibility and the exposure of the African-American experiences and the contributions of African Americans to the development of the country and to the world.”

Indeed, in addition to establishing a new national museum at the Smithsonian Institution, the National Museum of African American History and Culture Act of 2003 established a grant program at the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to support African-American museums throughout the nation. 

IMLS held a convening in its Washington, D.C. office
Pictured: This May, IMLS held a convening in its Washington, D.C. offices for AAHC grant recipients. Photo by Michael Davis Jr.

Just last month, IMLS announced nearly $1.5 million in grant awards in this category.

While some perceived that a national museum could lead to fewer resources for the existing museums and intense competition between the national and local museums, IMLS’s Museum Grants for African American History and Culture (AAHC) fosters recognition of the capacity of all of these institutions to flourish and convey African-American history and culture.

Senior IMLS staff and members of the National Museum and Library Services Board
Pictured: Senior IMLS staff and members of the National Museum and Library Services Board took a hard hat tour of the new museum earlier this summer. One member called the building “an architectural statement” particularly for its prominent location on the National Mall.

As we mark the opening of the new National Museum for African American History this week, IMLS would like to spotlight just a few of the recipients of the Museum Grants for  African American History and Culture (AAHC). Each day, you can visit our Facebook page to learn more about these grantees and the incredible work and stories that they are sharing in communities across the country.

We proudly celebrate our grantees and the National Museum for African American History and Culture; they are intrinsically linked as they carry and share the stories of generations.

Janelle Carter Brevard has led the IMLS Communications and Government Affairs team since 2015. She can be reached at jbrevard@imls.gov.

Programs: 
Museum Grants for African American History and Culture