COMMEMORATING STRUGGLES: CLAIMING FREEDOM
Buried in the broader observations of the American Civil War's Sesquicentennial, the years 2012–2015 mark the 150th anniversaries for the Age of Emancipation in the U.S. (beginning in 1862 with Washington, DC and ending with the ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865. Also within that period are 50th anniversaries of a number of pivotal events that contributed to the American Civil Rights Movement (most notably, the March on Washington, 2013).
The ending of slavery and the ending of racial segregation, respectively, were important benchmarks in America's history of pursuing its revolutionary ideals, and the evolution of its most basic identity as a "free people." Yet, with few exceptions, embracing the American freedom narrative, including emancipation and civil rights histories, has often been challenging to mainstream America too. These topics have been held apart and frequently regarded as important to the history of African Americans, but not fully American history. Thus, with the calendar turning toward these anniversaries, museums are presented with opportunities—albeit replete with challenges.
The communities of African American museums, African Americans who are museum professionals, and African Americans among general museum audiences, all have roles to play in these seminal moments our history and benefit from honest engagement and celebration of these commemorations. In developing session proposals, consideration should be given to:
- How should museums programs seek to assess and meet the needs of audiences seeking to understand freedom?
- What resources are needed and available to take up this work?
- What impacts and outcomes are possible for the broadest understanding of the American freedom narrative and African Americans connection to it?
For AAAM 2012 conference-goers in Baltimore, the theme of Commemorating Struggles: Claiming Freedom should be approached through session programming around several related considerations:
- Is there a specific perspective that African American museums should take?
- What approaches might African American professionals in mainstream institutions employ to push this story from the margins into a broader view?
- How might African American museumgoers have their expectations as consumers of museum programming resonate with the museum community?
- What types of educational instruction and programs are necessary in presenting African American history and culture?
- What types of research and investigation are needed to document obstacles, challenges, struggles, and successes encountered by African Americans?
- How might museums professionals work effectively to ensure that African American history is included and accurately reflected within the discourse of American history.