- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 1, 2016


Do you know who Philip Simmons was?

What Hiram Revels did?

The difference between antebellum “mammy” and an African named Mami Wata?

Give a hearty standing ovation, please, to Jacques-Louis Macie — a bastard child of France — for helping to provide the answers to those and countless other questions.

Most of us don’t know of Macie by that name because for much of his life he was known as James Smithson, and while he died in 1839 having never visited America, his legacy in educating the masses lives in the Smithsonian Institution.

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An eclectic scientist and the founding donor, Smithson bequeathed a premier institution that gathers, researches and disseminates information around the globe. His philanthropy helps to explain, however, why tourism drives the D.C. area’s economy and why Smithsonian facilities stretch as far north as Massachusetts, as far west as Arizona and as far south as Panama.

Also, the Smithsonian is arguably the most culturally diverse of culturally diverse cultural-based institutions.

And now, what began as a visionary’s dream in Europe and a “castle” on the Mall in the nation’s capital will soon breathe new life with the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Scheduled to officially open on Sept. 24, the museum will represent the blood, sweat, tears and pride of Africans and blacks in America.

It’s expected to showcase the fact that American life and African-American life are inseparable, even though generations wanted them separated and unequal.

Much of the museum will focus on slavery and our nation’s other defects, as well as the well-trod civil rights movement of the last half of the 20th century, and that’s OK since they all are worthy of global attention. Yet while our nation began on a foundation of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” its inhabitants remain conflicted — as the politics, protests and biases of this hard-charging presidential election year prove.

Black Lives Matter. Trump vs. Hillary. Native American interests. Traditional religion and the lack thereof. Legal distractions over restrooms, athletes’ freedom of speech, political correctness, culture wars, immigrants vs. refugees vs. illegal aliens, truths vs. lies, Pluto vs. Saturn.

Do our children really know that men are no more from Mars than women are from Venus?

That indigo and rice farming were parts of the slave-business economy in the South?

Or why Brooklynite George Gershwin had such powerful Southern intonations in his musical compositions?

The Smithsonian can inform you.

Understand, the National Museum of African American History and Culture is not a mere African-American museum. Like the other 18 museums and galleries that make up the most visible parts of the Smithsonian Institution and the National Zoological Park, the National Museum of African American History and Culture is poised to be a repository of American life for people who know a little and a lot about the good ol’ U.S. of A and its people and their history.

Just as there is more to see at the National Zoo than giant pandas, there should be more to see at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, including black Americans’ relations with pre- and post-Colonial Native Americans and the Spaniards’ ties with black Americans.

Supporters of the National Museum of African American History and Culture have long said that if it were built, the masses would come. In order for that to become a reality, the National Museum of African American History and Culture must do its benefactor proud.

That means showcasing the National Museum of African American History and Culture not as a black thing, but as an American thing.

Smithson stipulated a request in his will, which was drawn up in 1826: Establish an institution in Washington, D.C., dedicated to “the increase and diffusion of knowledge.”

Simple, eh?

Deborah Simmons can be contacted at [email protected]

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