Blair L. M. Kelley writes:
“In the same spirit, the museum works because its artifacts aren’t merely displayed to narrate a tidy through-line of black history’s greatest hits, from Crispus Attucks to Harriet Tubman to Frederick Douglass to Michelle Obama. Rather, its spaces remind us that from before the nation’s beginnings, African Americans have experienced victories and defeats in many times and places, and our traumas have often taken place alongside our triumphs. There’s the exhibit highlighting the people Thomas Jefferson enslaved, with bricks inscribed with their names standing like a wall behind his statue. Around the nation’s third president, author of our Declaration of Independence, stand African American luminaries, such as poet Phillis Wheatley, whom Jefferson dismissed as inferior in his “Notes on the State of Virginia,” and scientist Benjamin Banneker, who challenged Jefferson on race. In the same exhibit you can see shackles designed for a small child; they’re the sort used when people were sold away, just as hundreds of people enslaved by Jefferson were sold on the lawn of Monticello to settle his estate after his death.
“This one exhibit takes you from achievement to seemingly insurmountable barriers and back. This isn’t a clean or easy story to tell, but to tell it another way would be wrong, a perpetuation of the too-frequent oversimplification of black history….”