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Students Visit New Museum of African American History

Earlier this fall, Assistant Professor of History Natanya Duncan escorted a group to visit the newly opened Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African American History in Washington, DC. The Council for Equity and Community was happy to provide funds in support of this effort. Below are reflections and photographs from students and faculty who participated in the trip.

The museum was absolutely fascinating, it was great to be in the presence of so many African-Americans and people of the African diaspora to learn about their history and culture. I was very impressed with the layout of the entire facility, I think it was a great historical layout created to makeyou feel the experience of the whole African American journey. My favorite part of the museum was the whole black power movement, it was more uplifting than the rest of the experience. The saddest part that I experienced was reading some of the excerpts from the 15-ˇ1800s from slave masters and slaves.

Miles Davis


Thank you so much for this opportunity! When I first heard that it was being made, I was so excited and knew that I had to go! Being there for the opening weekend was such a wonderful experience. It was extremely emotional for me to see shards of the glass windows from a Birmingham church after it was bombed as well as the casket of Emmett Till. I also enjoyed the fourth floor, full of nostalgia through art, music, and television. I can't wait to go back with my family and experience the museum again.

Simone Cotton


The opportunity of traveling to the National Museum of African American History and Culture on grand opening weekend is one for which I will be eternally grateful. As soon as I stepped off the bus and looked up to take in the resplendent sight of the golden structure, shoulder to shoulder with the Washington Monument, I was overcome with emotion. I felt overjoyed to be in the presence of a manifestation of commemoration, and celebration, of a history as arduous and as rich as African American history. This structure and its contents were long overdue to be erected and displayed. The experience of reading panel after panel of the history of a people who built a country, who survived and continue to survive the despotism of the United States, is indescribable and incomparable. To be aware that so many people with whom I shared the space are descendants of the people who suffered through violent forced migrations, is a frigid and sobering feeling. I was impressed by the thoroughness of the story-ˇtelling and the emphasis on the many achievements of many African Americans as political activists, artists, community leaders, writers, and key members of our society. I can only wait impatiently for my next opportunity to return and revisit the museum, to absorb its magic more fully and more intimately.

Karen F. Valerio


I unfortunately did not take any pictures but I had a great time at the new Museum. I really enjoyed all of the quotes written on the wall because they allowed me to reflect and think about where I was and the history I was experiencing. As someone who is really passionate about and loves music, the music and pop culture floor of the museum was my absolute favorite and the place where I spent most of my time. The exhibit did an amazing job of honoring so many exceptional artists and bringing their life and their music to life. When we were all on the bus about to leave, you praised the Africana Studies program because it provided learning outside of the classroom and that really resonated with me. As an engineering student of color, I often times feel like my blackness and the history of my culture are not found inside the classroom and has no place in the STEM fields so I really appreciate the opportunity to travel to a new city for something as important as this.

Thank you you much,

Anjela Yates


Firstly, thank you for facilitating this experience for us students and faculty. As an African international student, I found it humbling to be able to hear and see the experiences of the African diaspora, a lot of which has culminated here in the United States. The ability to make connections between people of my descent and those of African Americans is something I appreciate but I felt has always been lacking despite our similar hardships. I was most touched by the reflections of current affairs that plague this country and in similar ways hinder the prosperity of developing countries such as my own. I'm glad that light is being shed on the issues facing black communities and that more people are beginning to appreciate the important contribution to modern culture and lifestyle that has been shaped by the suffering, the struggle, the courage and grace by people who at the end of the day are part of the human race.

Thank you,

Domenica Massamby


I didn't take any good pictures on the trip, but it was one of my favorite experiences of this semester. Being able to say that I went to a grand opening of a Smithsonian Museum is incredible, and I'm very grateful for the opportunity I was given. I didn't realize how much I didn't know about African American history and this trip allowed me to broaden my horizons.

Thanks again,

Jennifer Liu


The opportunity to travel to the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture was an exciting and meaningful experience. It enhanced my educational experience at Lehigh by increasing the scope of my studies. I am happy to have been part of this event of national and historical importance and share in the excitement of people around the country. It was an opportunity to see history from a different perspective, and it is a great opportunity for other Americans to do the same.

Brennen Stenke


I find that in most museum experiences, being aware of other's reactions adds an invaluable layer to experiencing the museum as a whole. Over the summer I attended the MET Breuer's Diane Arbus exhibit and watching the reactions of the sweet little old ladies made the experience more memorable to me. Seeing those women find so much joy and nostalgia in Arbus' street photography of the 50s and 60s, allowed me to better understand the importance of Arbus' works. Likewise, I'm a white female, so being able to go through NMAAHC with my black friends, helped me to better understand the significance of not only the museum's existence as a whole but also, the emotional weight to each exhibit individually. Seeing my friends' sadness at times and pure excitement at others, elevated my personal experience. Viewing a museum through the emotional lens of someone else, can add something intangible and unique that goes beyond the physical content in front of you.

NMAAHC was an incredible opportunity! I'm so happy I was able to attend.

Thank you,

Justine Gaetano


The trip to the National Museum of African American History and Culture was an amazing, eye-opening experience. It truly told the story our story from its very beginnings, not just from the slave trade itself but from the true beginning, the trade in Africa. It told the story of how racism was created and developed and its vital function to American society, how in the beginning class had nothing to do with race, and how America was truly built upon racism. It gave us the facts that so many people have been trying to deny for so long. I believe anyone who is trying to truly understand race relations today in America and in the world should go to this museum three or four times to truly learn and discover for themselves the truth.

Tamara Jones


It is invigorating to see a perspective of American history that, for years, has either been lost or undermined. The ascent through the NMAAHC finally reveals the stories that have been extremely influential in shaping this country. I enjoyed moving into the sections of modern African American history and hearing the stories of real people and how their identity has shaped their experiences. I look forward to seeing how the museum adapts to the future influences that African Americans will have on American culture and identity.

Amelia Galgon


I'm currently in a global studies class about the social and political changes that took place in the 60s, which covers times of Civil Rights and Black Power movement. Getting to see exhibits on impactful leaders I read about in my text, like Stokely Carmichael and Huey Newton, made the history in class even more real. The museum surpassed my expectations with so many levels of exhibits I barely got to see everything. The highlights of the museum for me were the Civil Rights in the 60s and the music exhibit, which both my roommate and I spent the most time in those sections. In term's of museums worth seeing in Washington DC, this is one I would recommend to anyone.

Thank you so much again for hosting this trip!


Devon Saturnia



It is with great joy and heartfelt thanks that I share my reflections of our trip to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The state-of-the-art museum experience was truly unforgettable and I was deeply impressed by the care, thought and love imbued in every inch of that tremendous space. Artifacts like Harriet Tubman's shawl and Nat Turner's bible stood out along with magnificent quotes by James Baldwin, Maya Angelou and other prominently displayed throughout the museum. As a Hip Hop scholar, I felt a deep sense of pride for Hip Hop's representation within the museum. So many of the exhibits were not only moving and breathtaking, they were also thoughtfully planned and impeccably executed. My awe at the legacy of African Americans in this country was magnified with pride and anchored in gratitude. The exhibits resonated with the history lessons I learned all my life and spoke to me in ways that made my heart sing. From the interactive lunch counter exhibit which told the story of Jim Crow segregation and the courage of those that fought the status quo with sit-ˇin protests, to the gut wrenching, literal descent into the middle passage exhibit where patrons were made to feel uncomfortable by being deliberately ushered into close physical proximity, echoing the slightest of inconveniences my ancestors were forced to endure during that horrific trip across the Atlantic Ocean. I was moved...many times to tears. In the coming years I plan to visit this museum often with friends and loved ones, but I will be forever grateful for the exciting opportunity we were given to visit with Lehigh on the inaugural weekend.

Sincerest thanks,

Professor Kashi Johnson