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Museums, memorials, and modern-day society: the Smithsonian, National Trust, and others share their

National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington DC

When the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened on the Mall in Washington, DC in 2016, it immediately became one of the most visited of the 20 museums that comprise the Smithsonian Institution. By the end of July 2017, the museum counted 1.5 million visits (because Smithsonian museums are free and do not require tickets, it counts “visits” rather than “visitors”), making it the third most popular, behind Air & Space and National History. The photo above shows the long line of people waiting for the limited number of same-day tickets (released at 1pm each day) on Friday, August 18, 2017.

Following the US Civil War (1861-1865), the southern United States entered a period known as Reconstruction, which was followed in the late 19th century by an era known for its racial discriminatory laws, many of which persisted throughout the 20th century when the landmark US Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964. At several points during the Jim Crow era, cities and towns erected memorials and monuments to Civil War generals and others who fought for the Confederacy; in addition, some states moved to incorporate the Confederate battle flag into their state flags.

In recent years, attempts to remove these symbols have been met with great controversy, but the tide now seems to be shifting dramatically. In 2015, South Carolina removed the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of its state house following the murder of nine African American churchgoers by a white supremacist. Recently, a group which appeared to have been largely white supremacists and neo-Nazi supporters attended a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, largely to protest the city council’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a public square; met with a large number of anti-white supremacy counter-protesters, the rally turned violent, culminating with the murder of a counter-protester when a white supremacist drove his car into the crowd.

These deadly events, and the escalating voices of the white supremacist supporters, have resulted in renewed urgency in the debate over how to reconcile Confederate symbolism in the public square. As the photo above shows, the popularity of the National Museum of African American History and Culture is proving to play a critical role in this national debate. Below are link to a statement from the museum and other organizations and individuals expressing their views.


Smithsonian’s African American History Museum Releases Statement on Charlottesville and Confederate Memorials

Beth Pi-Lieberman

August 20, 2017

Statement on Confederate Memorials from the National Trust for Historic Preservation

The Daily City

August 17, 2017

Descendants of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis are fine with moving Confederate statues

By Carly Sitrin


August 17, 2017

Why There Are No Nazi Statues in Germany. What the South can learn from postwar Europe.

By Joshua Zeitz

Politico Magazine

August 20, 2017

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