In honor of Black History Month, Morgan Samuels team member Angela Wynn shares her experience being on the front lines of launching this historic cultural monument.
The National Museum of African American History & Culture (NMAAHC) opened on September 24, 2016. The significant contributions of Founding Director Lonnie G. Bunch, III, Advisory Council Member Oprah Winfrey and many others are public knowledge. What you may not know is that Morgan Samuels’ own Angela Wynn played a very important role in the creation of the museum.
Among many notable accomplishments, James A. Johnson is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and serves as Chairman Emeritus of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and The Brookings Institution. He was previously Chairman of the Executive Committee of Fannie Mae, as well as Executive Assistant to then-Vice President Walter F. Mondale, advising the Vice President on domestic and foreign policy and political matters.
Prior to working for Johnson, Angela had been a longtime legal secretary and was looking for a new challenge. When she was initially contacted by a recruiter for the position as Johnson’s EA, she was not told at first who she would be supporting. Once she found out, she knew she “had” to get the job.
“There was a lot of preparation that went into [getting the job].” Angela said. “In the end, I think it came down to my personal ‘Thank you’ note, and the camaraderie we had when I interviewed with Jim.” Johnson was impressed not only by their shared alma mater, Howard University, but also connected with Angela as both were former Midwest “kids” now in the big city. As a member of the Council of the NMAAHC, it was Johnson’s job to solicit funds for the building of the museum, and to help make decisions about what exactly would go into the museum and what the layout of the building would be.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture (photo courtesy of NMAAHC)
Angela shared that one of the biggest challenges the Council faced was trying to solicit funds for the museum that currently holds a collection of close to 37,000 historical installments. Through perseverance (and more than a little Oprah magic), the museum is currently thriving and in the midst of a year long celebration. As Johnson’s EA, Angela was privy to early layouts and sneak peeks of the museum’s proposed contents. “To know that it was coming together was great,” she said.
One of Angela’s favorite moments actually came after she had left the position, having moved from Washington, DC to Nashville: “They made the formal announcement that the museum was opening and they televised the opening ceremony. I watched the whole thing and was so amazed. I immediately emailed Jim, and told him how proud I was to know that he helped build this for us, especially because of my sons. I told Jim, ‘I couldn’t be prouder to know you.’”
"They really wanted to provide a well rounded view of what African American – not just history – but culture, is about… And for it to be represented in the way that it is, in this huge, beautiful building in one of the most important places in our country – on the National Mall – is amazing.”
The museum currently has a wait list about two months long. When asked what she hopes others will take away from visiting the museum Angela states, “I want people to understand that our history is not limited to slavery and civil rights. People always want to put us in a subset and not really emphasize the major contributions that African Americans have made… It was really important to [the Council] to encompass everything . They really wanted to provide a well rounded view of what African American – not just history – but culture, is about… And for it to be represented in the way that it is, in this huge, beautiful building in one of the most important places in our country – on the National Mall – is amazing.”
Angela is planning to take her boys – aged 14, 9 and 7, to the museum this summer.
Morgan Samuels celebrates the contributions of all African American trailblazers this, and every, month.
One of the Museum's many exhibits (photo courtesy of NMAAHC)
The National Museum of African American History and Culture is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture. It was established by Act of Congress in 2003, following decades of efforts to promote and highlight the contributions of African Americans. To date, the Museum has collected more than 36,000 artifacts and nearly 100,000 individuals have become charter members. The Museum opened to the public on September 24, 2016, as the 19th and newest museum of the Smithsonian Institution.
There are four pillars upon which the NMAAHC stands:
- It provides an opportunity for those who are interested in African American culture to explore and revel in this history through interactive exhibitions
- It helps all Americans see how their stories, their histories, and their cultures are shaped and informed by global influences
- It explores what it means to be an American and share how American values like resiliency, optimism, and spirituality are reflected in African American history and culture
- It serves as a place of collaboration that reaches beyond Washington, D.C. to engage new audiences and to work with the myriad of museums and educational institutions that have explored and preserved this important history well before this museum was created.
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