Hundreds celebrate as nation’s African American Museum nears completion

Special to the NNPA News Wire from HU News Service

Hundreds of people gathered at an inaugural event for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture Monday night here to celebrate the completion of the museum’s exterior in a year that marks three significant moments in American history.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War and the ratification of the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery, as well as the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act—events that greatly shifted the trajectory of African Americans.

The museum’s founding director, Lonnie Bunch, launched the night of celebration, which included music, a dramatic visual arts display, remembrances and congratulations.

“Tonight we commemorate the meaning of freedom, a term that was never abstract to African Americans,” Bunch said.

African Americans’ triumphs through centuries of harsh discrimination were honored and remembered during the celebration, including the premiere of a seven-minute projection depicting over 150 years of African American progress, from Harriet Tubman to the Black Lives Matter movement.

The visual piece, “Commemorate and Celebrate Freedom” by filmmaker Stanley Nelson, bounced 3-D images of the nation’s Black heroes—Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, the Rev. Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X—off the New Orleans-inspired ironwork exterior, tipping a hat to Black craftsmen of another time.

The projection ran on Tuesday (November 17) and Wednesday (November 18) evening from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

“This building is homage to the fact that so much of our history is hidden in plain sight,” Bunch said.

When the building opens officially in the fall of 2016, it will include a wide array of Black memorabilia and history, including Harriet Tubman’s hymnal, a lace shawl given to her by Queen Victoria and family photographs of her funeral; a Jim Crow railroad car, Chuck Berry’s red Cadillac convertible, remnants from a slave ship found off the coast of South Africa, works of celebrated Black artists and a Tuskegee Airmen training plan, a slave cabin, Emmett Till’s casket and Muhammad Ali’s protective boxing gear.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser linked the history of Black Washingtonians to the history of African Americans, citing cultural contributors like composer, pianist and band leader Duke Ellington, singer and composer Marvin Gaye and actress and singer Pearl Bailey, all of whom were born and raised in the nation’s capital.

Washington Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton called the District of Columbia, “a crucible of African American history.”

After a reading of Margaret Walker’s “For My People,” scored by Darin Atwater and performed by the Soulful Symphony, gospel singer BeBe Winans sang “America” and “Stand” alongside the symphony and a gospel choir.

Winans said seeing the exterior of the museum was a special moment for him.

“As I stood in front, I felt like I was standing in the middle of my past and my future,” he said.

Longtime activist and national radio personality Joe Madison said the museum has significance far beyond Washington

“The message is very clear,” he said. “This is not just a museum for African Americans, but for the world, and we are part of the world.”

Black churches show support for Obama’s environment plan

Special to the NNPA News Wire from HU News Service

Leaders of the nation’s major Black churches — representing nearly 13 million African-American members — presented over 10,000 pastors’ signatures to Congressional Black Caucus members in support of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

The leaders said they are making the effort to push forward the bill, which has a goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent by 2030.

Bishop George Battle, senior bishop of A.M.E. Zion Church; the Rev. Samuel C. Tolbert, Jr., president of the National Baptist Convention of America, and the Rev. Timothy Tee Boddie, general secretary to the Progressive National Baptist Convention of America, were among the 10,000 who presented their signatures to members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who represents Oakland, Berkeley and other northern California cities applauded their effort.

” As faith and community leaders, their commitment to protecting and preserving our fragile planet is greatly needed as we work to address climate change,” Lee said in a statement.

Lee said the president’s plan and other environmental action must have a positive effect on disadvantaged communities.

“This is truly an issue about justice – environmental justice, economic justice and racial justice. The negative effects of pollution and climate change have disproportionately affected communities of color,” she said.

“As we work to reverse climate change, we must all raise our voices together and ensure that the economic opportunities created by the green economy are open to all.”

According to caucus members, almost 40 percent of the six million Americans living close to coal-fired power plants are people of color, and they are disproportionately African-American. Pollutants released from those plants have led to high rates of asthma and respiratory issues within nearby communities.

According to the president and his supporters, his plan would decrease premature deaths from emissions by nearly 90 percent and asthma attacks in children by 90,000 by 2030.

The Rev. Jesse Bottoms, vice president of the National Baptist Convention, echoed concerns about the impact of pollutants on African Americans.

“Environmental concerns are not abstractions for African Americans,” Bottoms said. “They are real, and they affect us in very real ways, particularly our children and seniors.”

According to the White House, the number of Americans with asthma has more than doubled over the last 30 years, and severe droughts, wildfires and the rising sea level are affecting communities nationwide.

Of the 15 warmest years recorded, 14 of them have occurred since 2000, with the warmest year being 2014. Children and the elderly, the sick and the poor are most at risk from effects of climate change.

Bishop Carrol Baltimore of the Global United Fellowship said, “No one should have to live in dirty air that makes them sick, but it’s especially unfair that our least fortunate and most vulnerable communities—our children and those living in poverty and with lower incomes—have to suffer even more than the rest.”