Many Washingtonians, Virginians, and Marylanders (and, frankly, a good portion of the United States) had been waiting for this, and finally, in the fall of 2016, President Obama and many other luminaries in the African American community celebrated the debut of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. The desire for representation is apparent by the fact that tickets to the museum are still extremely difficult to obtain ever a year after opening. As of right now, there is no availability in the next month – which is how it’s been since it opened its doors.
The United States Postal Service does credit to itself in its vast array of diverse choices for their stamps. USPS frequently features people of color, as well as feminist and LGBTQ icons. Their choices never feel partisan or guided by the politics of the time. They have an eternal and unbiased quality to them – maybe that’s why collectors revere them. Time and again, I have seen our postal system endorse people from all walks of life in an understated and almost subversive capacity. Celebrating the African American History Museum is yet another example of how the lack of agenda and eagerness to give voice to all makes our postal service exceptional, and is another good reason to support them.
Using these stamps seems to be the closest I will get to the new Smithsonian contribution to the National Mall for awhile. The museum’s stunning architecture feels distinguished and modern, and is a breath of fresh air that (intentionally or not) rejects the stark white buildings that define the city’s façade. I was able to drive by it a few months ago, and the brief glimpse made me feel very proud of the city and the contributions of all of the people that worked so hard to make this happen. The origin story of the museum is a long and labyrinthine tale that, luckily, has a happy ending. I hope that this jump-starts the creation of other museums for minorities and underrepresented populations. The fact that African American history is given such a prominent place on the Mall feels more than symbolic – there is substance in this place, with many tragic and inspiring voices that need to be heard in a prominent place where it can be accessed by many (if you can get a ticket, that is). This is history the way it needs to be taught: frank, uncensored, and filled with grand and hopeful ideas that are so very American in spirit.
Watch out, D.C. – this white city is finally getting some color.