SI 175

The Smithsonian at 175

 

2021 represents a significant chapter in the Smithsonian’s history—its 175th anniversary. On August 10, 1846, the U.S. Senate passed the act organizing the Smithsonian Institution, which was signed into law by President James K. Polk. As we commemorate this milestone, it is important to not only look back at where we have been, but also look ahead to what is on the horizon. Join us in person or online this coming year for a series of events that explore our history and imagine the Institution’s next 175 years.

Upcoming Events

 

Present History Activity Guide

Present History

As the Smithsonian celebrates its 175th anniversary, lifelong learners and their families can enjoy highlights of significant, game-changing milestones that inspire, excite, and offer moments of reflection. Through stories of innovation, movements, inspiration, and reflection in an ongoing quest to better understand the American experience, readers are introduced to a sampling of the breadth and depth of the Smithsonian. Games throughout the guide offer opportunities to test your knowledge, learn something new, and connect with family and friends.

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Featured Exhibition

Futures exhibition illustration

To celebrate the Smithsonian’s 175th anniversary in 2021, the Arts and Industries Building reopened for the first time in two decades with FUTURES, the first building-wide exploration of the future on the National Mall.

On view November 21, 2021, through July 6, 2022, FUTURES featured a vast array of interactives, artworks, tech, and ideas that were glimpses into humanity’s next chapter.

Happy Birthday Smithsonian!

Kickoff to the Smithsonian’s 175th Anniversary Commemoration

Birthday Wishes from the Smithsonian Community

From "Our Divided Past" to "Our Shared Future"

Museums and the Advancement of Equity and Understanding

Recorded October 27, 2021.

From "Our Divided Past" to "Our Shared Future" Museums and the Advancement of Equity and Understandi

BACKGROUND

From "Our Divided Nation" to "Our Shared Future": Museums and the Advancement of Equity and Understanding was hosted by Kevin Gover, Smithsonian Under Secretary for Museums and Culture on October 27, 2021, 6:30 ET.

Responding to protests and unrest in over 150 American cities, in 1968, President Lydon B. Johnson convened the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, better known as the Kerner Commission, to consider the root causes of the disturbances and recommend national action. In its landmark report, the Commission concluded “white racism” as the leading cause of “our divided nation,” and called on the country to “make good the promises of American democracy to all citizens—urban and rural, white and black, Spanish surname, American Indian and every minority group.” To do so, the Commission noted, would require “from every American . . . new attitudes, new understanding, and above all, a new will.”  The protests across America over the past 18 months have demonstrated that the collective “new will” envisioned by the Commission remains unrealized.

The launch of the Smithsonian’s “Our Shared Future: Reckoning with Our Racial Past” initiative and the creation of two new museums by Congress, the Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum and the National Museum of the American Latino, present unique moments to explore how museums can help foster that “new will” and promote the Commission’s goal of “common opportunities for all.”

VIDEO TRANSCRIPT

Kevin Gover: 
Good evening, everyone, welcome to our program. This evening, we're going to be discussing museums and the advancement of equity and understanding. What is the role of museums in the advancement of equity and understanding in our country? And we'll be joined by a group of our Smithsonian leaders to talk about that subject.  

You know, our Smithsonian and our history museums really are repositories of the American memory, and we believe that with a more complete understanding of our shared past, we can shape our shared future and make it one in which equity and equality of opportunity are the central features of our society. And to that end, we welcome you this evening.  

So now it's my pleasure to introduce Alan Curtis, the president of the Eisenhower Foundation.  

 

Alan Curtis: 
Thank you, Kevin. Thank you to the Smithsonian for this event, and thank you for the Mellon Foundation for its support. The National Museum of African-American History and Culture's exhibition, Reckoning: Protest. Defiance. Resilience., features a portrait of Breonna Taylor done posthumously by Amy Sherald who painted the portrait of Michelle Obama.  

The Breonna Taylor painting is a powerful, elegant, and psychologically direct statement on reckoning in America. It is also about Black Lives Matter and 2020 and George Floyd. The painting's meaning carries America back as well to the disturbances of 1960s in Detroit, Newark, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, and 150 other American cities around the nation. Whites tended to call the 1960s disturbances "riots". People of color called them protests. For the most part, the same differences in framing hold true today. In response to the '60s protests, President Lyndon Johnson formed the bipartisan Kerner Commission, which concluded that the underlying cause was white racism. The commission advised, it is time to make good the promise of American democracy to all citizens. Rural and urban, Black and white, Spanish surname, and every group. I'm quoting directly.  

It is time to make the promise of American democracy. In the 50-year update to the Kerner Commission, we have concluded that America has made relatively little progress in racial justice, reckoning with poverty and inequal, and in many ways have gone backwards. Since the Commission, wealth inequality, school segregation, and mass incarceration of people of color has increased. White nationalist movements have strengthened, as we saw in Charlottesville, the Capitol Building in Washington was invaded on January 6th, the pandemic has made things disproportionately worse for people of color, and the truly disadvantaged.  

Nevertheless, over the past 50 years, the nation has built up considerable evidence on economic, education, public health, justice, youth development, housing, and other policies that work. Yet as we have talked around the nation on Kerner and healing, we have found that the public does not, for the most part, understand that we know a lot about what doesn't work, and that policy needs to be based on evidence and science, not on dogma and supposition.  

Surely, the importance of evidence is a theme that carries across all of the Smithsonian museums. We also have learned a great deal about what doesn't work, like zero-tolerance policing, mass incarceration of people of color, and willful indifference to the unequal distribution of prosperity.  

Most of all, what doesn't work includes false rhetoric on government being the problem. But now, to the contrary, and based on the evidence, we need to advocate for a more activist public sector, I believe, that recognizes Kerner priorities and scales up what works.  

It is time, I suggest, to seize the day, renegotiate the social contract, restructure basic power equations, and change the rules of the game. The goal is not to get back to normal. Normal has been the problem in America. We have, in fact, already reversed false rhetoric on government. 2020 hosted the largest expansion of federal activity in American history, and the momentum continues in 2020 and 2021. At the same time, in order to seize the day, to scale up what works and scale down what doesn't work, we still need what the Kerner Commission called "new will", way back in 1968. How, then, can we create new will in our divided society? That is one of the most important questions of our time. Many say that generating new will begins with ensuring the right to vote, and I agree. Many go on to say that generating new will can in part be a function of the humanities, the arts, museums, and higher learning institutions. Martin Luther King, Dolores Huerta, John Lewis, Cesar Chavez created cultural change in the 1960s, change that was facilitated, visualized, and amplified by museums and other cultural institutions by the visual arts and by the performing arts. That cultural change helped influence public sector legislation, like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. In turn, that legislation created more cultural change and more legislation. Culture impacts policy, and policy impacts culture. To better define the power of the cause and effect relationship that can heal our society, we are collaborating with culture visionaries, and will then assemble lessons learned and report back to the Mellon Foundation on a possible national strategy.  

For example, we will be asking the directors of the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts how they can better focus their prestigious international institutions on the people who will benefit most from the priorities of the Kerner Commission. We will be doing the same with grassroots organizations that use the arts to further their Kerner-aligned visions like EXPO Chicago and the Laundromat Project in Brooklyn.  

We soon will be asking Harvard professor of African American studies and art, Sarah Lewis, to build on her Better Vision in Justice project to suggest how photo images in the public realm can better advance Kerner and healing. We have the insights of Marc Bamuthi Joseph, vice president for social impact at the Kennedy Center, and the Asian-Pacific perspectives of Roberta Uno, director of Arts in a Changing America.  

We have just completed an event with Bishop William Barber and his colleagues on the Poor People's Campaign. The campaign is a diverse moral fusion movement that has embraced white Appalachian coal miners, Latinx border immigrants and African American gospel.  

Bishop Barber reflected with us that the sanity of any movement is contingent upon the strength of its song. Sometimes the pain is so great, you need to begin with music. Bishop Barber recalled how important Aretha Franklin and Mahalia Jackson were to Dr. King. We have held an event with the American Academy of Poets featuring Poet Laureate Joy Harjo and former Poet Laureate Tracey K. Smith. As well as a LULAC event on Latinx culture and Congresswoman Deb Haaland, who now is of course the first Native American woman Secretary of the Interior.  

Now, we are honored by the wisdom of the Smithsonian. So I ask tonight's panel: Is there, or can there be a cause and effect strategy that leads from a collaborative museum innovation and artistic innovation to measurable cultural change in America, and can that cultural change embody new will that then leads to measurable reductions in racial injustice, economic inequality, and poverty?  

As part of such a cause and effect strategy, will young people on the South Side of Chicago, in South Central LA, and South Bronx travel to DC to see the Breonna Taylor portrait and the powerful Smithsonian exhibition on racial and economic reckoning? Most will not be able to. Does that mean that the portrait and exhibition must be creatively projected on the Smithsonian website? And what the is role of our imperfect social media? And how can small local museums across America attract crowds as well as large national museums? Do we expand the art for justice strategy in which funds are used to inspire collaborative grassroots organizing by nonprofit groups to reduce economic injustice, racial inequality, and poverty, to further Black Lives Matter and the Poor People's Campaign? Do we try to motivate those cultural institutions called universities to apply academic knowledge more effectively in the communities where they are located? For example, by replicating Bard College's premier College Behind Bars prison education model?  

Do we build on how foundations like Mellon and Ford are expanding fellowships for practitioners of color in the arts and the humanities?  

And does the movement not need to focus to target multiple audiences, as Director Young has suggested in a June guest essay in the New York Times? In 1968, before he was assassinated, Dr. King was forming a new coalition among all races and most classes. Today, we need to motivate believers in Kerner and healing priorities to continue the struggle. But we also need to communicate to independents and fence-sitters, as well as to Americans who may be opposed to Kerner and healing priorities, like at least some whites living in poverty, and like state legislators who have passed voter suppression laws.  

When he announced the new Smithsonian initiative on racial reckoning, Secretary Bunch concluded that the only way to find a shared future was to engage and to debate. He promised, quote, we will be testing ideas, testing different kinds of collaborations, testing different technology.  

He concluded that he hoped the testing will make the country better, and also the Smithsonian better.  

At this moment of intense debate on the shared future of our democracy, it is with Secretary Bunch's collaborative spirit that we dedicate our convening tonight.  

 

Kevin Gover:  
Thank you for that, Alan, and thanks for all of those provocative questions. We're going to attempt to answer at least a few of them this evening. So with that, let me introduce some of my Smithsonian colleagues.  

First, Theo Gonzalves is a curator at the National Museum of American History and is currently serving as the acting director of the Asian Pacific American Center.  

Tey Marianna Nunn is the director of the American Women's History Initiative at the Smithsonian.  

Deborah Mack is the director of the initiative entitled Our Shared Future: Reckoning with our Racial Past. Kevin Young is the director of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture. And Anthea Hartig is the director of the National Museum of American History.  

Thank you all for joining us tonight. Why don't we all just jump right in to the question that Alan has posed to us. I'll start with you, Kevin. What can museums, and more specifically, what can the Smithsonian collection of museums and research centers do to advance equity and understanding in a country that seems to be terribly divided right now?  

 

Kevin Young: 
Well, thanks a lot, Kevin. It is a big question, but I think it's one that the Smithsonian's tackling in Our Shared Future, but also, we think about it a lot at the National Museum of African-American History and Culture. A few things we've done specifically, and then a broader point, I think.  

One is that museums can help us understand that this is a precedented time, at least that's what I refer to it is. Sometimes we think of it as out of the blue, the past, and of course the framing of the question, and thinking of the Kerner Commission, helps us realize this is an ongoing concern. But even thinking 100 years ago when the museum was starting to be wrestled over as an idea, and it took 100 years to build, I think that even then, you know, we had questions of pandemic, we had the Tulsa race massacre, Red Summer of 1919. So to think back on that, and to connect the dots for people, is I think very important to help contextualize the moments we're in, and have deep conversations about those moments. I remember encountering the Tulsa massacre exhibition that's part of our permanent exhibit at the museum when I was just a visitor, and it was so moving and powerful. And what I think was powerful IN that is not just telling the story of what happened and showing postcards, horrible postcards that people posted of the destruction, but also showing the testimony of survivors. I think that was really important, to give that voice. And the Kerner Commission quote about making good the promises also helps me think about the originator of that quote, Fredrick Douglass, and title is one of the most recent shows about Reconstruction and its legacies. What I like about that show, which opened last month for our fifth anniversary, is not just that it thinks about Reconstruction not just in a time when it's coming to the fore about who can vote, where people with live, are people going to be compensated for their losses, how do we talk about finance, and some of those questions that are with us today. But we also have this legacy section that thinks about that too. And it's a very powerful section, which has everything from the stained glass taken out of the National Cathedral that represented Robert E Lee, which was there until very recently, to the last effects from survivors of the Emmanuel massacre and also Trayvon Martin's last effects. I think the power I see when I visit those collections and see people interacting with them, and really overcome, in many ways, is that they're saying how much this is relevant to their lives. And I think we have to continue to help people understand the historic context, but also the ongoing conversation, and the everyday concerns. You know, people are coming in with their own things that they're dealing with and wrestling with, and these questions they want to address in museums, and that's what we find in people from all over the world who visit the Smithsonian.  

 

Kevin Gover: 
And, Anthea, so, these events of the past couple of years have really, really shaken us up. Has it shaken up the National Museum of American History? Are you doing things differently in the aftermath of a pandemic and the murder of George Floyd?  

 

Anthea Hartig: 
Thank you, Kevin, and thank you, my brother director, Kevin, for so beautifully articulating what the National Museum of African-American History and Culture is doing. I've been honored to lead now the American History Museum, a good old flagship museum, if you will, for longer in COVID than I did in the before time. So it's been an incredible test of our mission, which is to use community input to create a more just future by looking at the complexities of our past. And it has the goal of representing the people we welcome, to represent the demographies of the nation. So that's our mission, and then the pandemic hits, and the cascading crises, racial, viral, economic, have come to the fore. We have brought into our mission for the first time what we think is one of the only internship programs with formerly incarcerated individuals from the Goucher program, similar to what you mentioned at Bard, to the museum center, and we're launching the Center for Restorative History, which aims to combine the methodologies of restorative justice with those of public history. Doing what we know how to do -- collect and interpret -- and address the harm that we've done as the Smithsonian, as well as the good that we can do moving forward to help heal the nation.  

So it's been a truly remarkable set of changes, and I'm so struck by the Alice in Wonderland comment at the end of the Kerner Commission report by none other than Kenneth B Clark who said, I read the report of the 1919 riot in Chicago, investing the Harlem riot in 1943, the Kohn Commission, the Watts riot, and I must say in candor again it's kind of like Alice in Wonderland.  

So I think it's our responsibility to help break that chain, to help create those new narratives, those new histories, really, that tell a broadly inclusive and very complex past, and not to lose hope in our own agency. I think James Baldwin had that great quote that nobody could take away your responsibility, or something similar. So, thanks. 

 

Kevin Gover: 
That brings us to mind, Deborah, that museums are also changing, have been changing and are continuing to change in terms of their relationship with the communities that surround them, and even communities that are distant from them. And your work in particular, both at the African American Museum, and now as the director of Our Shared Future, how are you imagining the future relationships between institutions like our Smithsonian museums and these communities out there in the world who are facing these daunting problems?  

 

Deborah Lynn Mack: 
This work is new in one way, and not new at all in other ways. As you're very well aware, so many of the Smithsonian museums have had ongoing relationships with their own constituents, their own communities of relevance and of collecting, of shared memory.  

I think what is now about this initiative is that it's the first time that we have a completely pan-Smithsonian approach, where it's not just the National Museum of American History, or the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, or the Asian American and Pacific Program, but it's also the Air and Space Museum and the Postal Museum, and all the research centers and museums that are looking collaboratively and pan-institutionally at what they can be doing not just in their own right, but with their partners who they've already been serving.  

I think one of the motivations of this initiative is also to reposition the Smithsonian as a leading partner, not as a leader, per se. Clearly Smithsonian has unmatched capacity, convening capacity, interdisciplinary capacity, and wealth, incredible collections, objects, archives, resources that we can bring to bear on this.  

But this work has to be done, if it's going to have any sustainability, in collaboration with our partners on the ground who know their communities in face-to-face ways that we cannot. We do in some instances. But by working with partner institutions and organizations, often that is museums and archives and libraries, but also community organizations. Activist organizations. We are able to amplify their work, to sometimes provide credibility and legitimacy, in other words, currency to their work. If we can work with them, we're also learning from them. Because I believe that this kind of work, this racial justice work, which is multigenerational, which precedes the founding of this country, is interdisciplinary and it's ongoing, and it's collective.  

So this has been -- we're currently moving through a really difficult period again in our history, not unprecedented, as colleague Kevin Young has indicated. But at the same time, if we continue to work in a collaborative way with organizations on the ground, and they do this even better than we do, by listening to where they are, and what they know, by also engaging in this work in, I'd say, very multicultural ways, in differently linguistic ways, in ways that resonate where our communities are, where they live, where they are even intellectually around this, we don't want to have another cycle of communities feeling that they are being told how they should think, what they should do, where individuals may feel not necessarily welcome or not identified with this work, or they may feel that they're the bad guy in this kind of work. This is for all of us collectively. I think the Smithsonian across the board, in working with all the organizations that do this work every day, all day, in face-to-face ways, and have done so for a very long time, can really play a large role in amplifying the resources, goodwill, social justice, and resources that are already out there.  

 

Kevin Gover: 
Theo, could you talk a little bit about the Asian Pacific American Center, and specifically how its work has changed, perhaps, in response to these twin pandemics of COVID-19 and a seemingly, seeming increase in violence against people of color, and in particular, violence against Asian American people?  

 

Theo Gonzalves: 
Sure, yeah, thank you for the question, Kevin. You know, at Asian Pacific American Center, it's going to be entering its 25th year of work at the Smithsonian, and it's been doing this work of telling complicated stories of a very complicated group, which is now the fastest growing racial minority in the country. Coming from disparate locations in Asia, but having an impact in America for centuries long. How have the last years affected our communities? Well, that's a story of shock and misery and woe. And ultimately, it is, in the same way that Kevin and Deborah have been describing, this is not a new story. Asian Americans are not new to the Americas. These are very old stories, and when we talk about this season, the season of hatred and violence in which Asian faces are now targets, again, we have to come to this moment where we understand that this is a place that we have been before. This is a cycle. And the sooner we get to understanding that this is a cycle of history, it puts us in a different relationship. Not just Asian Americans and Pacific islanders. I think this should be a lesson really for all Americans and all persons who are thinking about visiting a museum or thinking about history. History is not something that is bad. It is not something that is in the past. So if we can riff on that Faulkner comment, I think we all need a new relationship with history. Because what we're trying to convey, whether it's African American, Native stories, Chicano Latino stories, Asian Pacific Islander stories, it's about how we all have been here. All of us have been here before. So our responses might be different, but some of our responses are the same. And when we look at Asian Pacific history, we are more than what has been done to us. We have to be more than the victimization of our history. We are the sum total of our solidarities with each other. And that's an American story. That's a Pacific islander story. That's people standing up for each other, standing with each other. And as Japanese Americans think about, decades long, years after the internment, how they see their own stories reflected with children at the border in cages, that's an act of solidarity that goes across racial groups, ethnic groups, that goes across generations. That's a historical and a teachable moment. And that's the kind of conversation that I think a place like the Smithsonian can foster and facilitate. A new way to think about history. Because I think so often, we are... we're tired of it, we're bored of the subject, we claim that we don't like history. But this, for many of us, this is really how we find life and joy in the struggle. We find joy in these stories. And not just happiness. I'm talking about true, deep-seated joy, because they represent deep traditions when you can stand for and with each other.  

So I think these past two years have really been a real challenge for a lot of our communities. We're still facing it. And as I think about October as Filipino American history month, I think about those Filipino Americans who have been on the front lines, they've been 4% of the nursing corps, but 30% of COVID deaths. That's a shocking statistic in the present. Yet it goes all the way to the past, to the U.S.-Philippine war in the 20th century. Why don't we learn more about this? There's more of our history, more of our connection to learn, and the better we can connect to each other, the better we can unravel a sense of what these solidarities mean.  

 

Kevin Gover: 
Yeah, we're going to come back around on this idea of a shared narrative, but first, I want to bring Tey into the conversation and say, so, where does Women's History fall in this conversation about social justice, and how we present and understand history?  

 

Tey Marianna Nunn: 
Well, thank you, Kevin, it's so great to be with my colleagues. I mean, gender intersects with all of this, right? And I was listening to our video tour of the new Hun Lu exhibit, which is at the National Portrait Gallery, and I highly recommend. She starts off echoing what Theo says, which is that history is not a noun, it's a verb, because it's going on right now. I just thought it was a new way of saying it. I really enjoyed that. But it brings the shared past that we're talking about at the Smithsonian, the shared future, but for me, it also means, you know, a shared imagination about how we're going to do this. And the Women's History Initiative, like the race initiative, works with all of the Smithsonian entities in recovering, researching, and amplifying and disseminating the voices of women, and this intersects with everything. The work that we're doing can be so micro as to be doing Wikipedia edits to change the narrative in Wikipedia and the times that women's histories are told through the Smithsonian collections, to sort of macro discussions about, oh, I don't know, everything from space-making and why that can create communication, whether that's virtual or physical, and how gender influences that, or how gender can be... the discussions around gender and women's voices can be amplified through that.  

I was just reflecting, you know, as a Latina and working with the Women's History Initiative, I keep on looking at all these things in the news, and just, you know, I think it was October 21st was a day that commemorates Latina Equal Pay Day, right? It takes 10 months for Latinas to make the money that an Anglo man would have made in 2020. So it takes 10 months into the year 2021.  

Those are things that, really, museums, libraries, and cultural institutions, whether virtually or physically in a space, have a social responsibility to investigate, and address, and any sort of interpretation that's made public, you know, in a museum is a statement, in a way. Right? And it invites dialogue. And whether, again, that's virtually or physically, and we need to be sort of talking about the virtual realm, you know, museums are considered trusted members of community, and we need to facilitate all these dialogues.  

 

Kevin Gover: 
Anthea, it would appear right now there is no common understanding of what the American story is. That in fact we do not share an understanding of what our past is. Which leads me to wonder, do you think it's even possible to construct an American narrative upon which we all agree?  

 

Anthea Hartig: 
That's a wonderful question. Can we construct an American narrative upon which we can all agree? This has been debated, of course, as, you know, from the rise of the word and the practice of history.  

I think that it's possible for us to create a very complicated landscape of interwoven narratives in which we see the intersections, like to one of Theo's great points, where we understand the solidarities, where we know and come together to make change. Where we've created opportunities for each other. Without the reckoning, however, which I know we're all using quite a bit, but it's a very powerful action verb, as is "history", Tey, historia for the Greeks, the act of inquiry, I think we have to address some of the core, phenomenally challenging roadbooks to that. White nationalism, obviously. Going back to the subject of tonight and why the work of this effort is so critical, once you read the Kerner Commission report again, it is astounding that what they had immediately picked up on as this kind of duplicative, Alice in Wonderland, as I mentioned previously, but really the ways in which change has not happened, and change has been resisted.  

So I think less about a grand, sweeping American narrative. I think that's such a part of the hegemonic progressive understanding of the American task. And I think much more about the complicated challenges weaved to that. And as Secretary Bunch challenged us, to use history to let the nation reach its loftiest ideals. I think that of as we reach the semiquincentenial, the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, and we know that all men and women were not viewed as equal in the eyes of those who made that document.  

So I think it's not the question to ask in a sense that it takes us back into that kind of a grand sweeping mononarrative. But I'd love to know what my colleagues think. I think about this quite a bit. I think there's a big chance for the type of stories, for the type of artifacts that we collect. We collected the beautifully folded cranes, right, these cranes that were done by the families or interred families themselves. That was constructed, that was immediately  

So thinking about the story that those cranes tell as the weave of the intersection of people standing up for each other in times where their human rights were so jeopardized and when they were subject to such violence and hatred. So I don't know if I answered your question well, but...  

 

Kevin Gover: 
Yeah, I mean, my mind wanders on that subject all the time. So I'm going to have Kevin pin it all down for us.  

(Laughter.) 

What, then, is the role of museums like the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Museum of the American Indian, our new National Museum of the American Latino, in creating this complicated weave that Theo and Anthea have been talking about? How do we, you know -- do we need all these different museums in order to be able to do it? I mean, what -- how do we do this?  

 

Kevin Young:  
Well, I think it's, uh... yes, we do!  

(Laughter.) 

I think that's the short answer.  

But I think a lot about how the museum, and I'll just take our museum as a starting point, helps us see ourselves and then see each other. And I see that every day when I come in, and you see people of all stripes and all walks of life going through the museum and being transformed by it. And I think people want these museums as a place of discovery, learning about themselves. I learn something every time I'm in the space. But also about each other. And I think that's really important. Secretary Bunch, my predecessor in the museum, the founding director, always says it so well, about, we provide an African American lens on American history, and that American story.  

I also think there's a real opportunity in the museum to think about how we can collect what's happening now, and the newness, collecting the now and the new is something I've been saying. And thinking about history as living, and indeed, living history has also come to the fore as something we've been talking about a lot at the museum. Because we are living through history, history is living in us. And things like the Breonna Taylor portrait and the Reckoning show we put up really thinks about the past five years, say. Happens to be the five years we've been open, but also it's been a transformative time, and seeing the artwork that I think has been created in this time, but also that's been created over a century that's featured in the show really thinks about the ways that African Americans are engaged in history and art history, and I think that that aspect of culture, too, I would bring to the fore. We've been talking about history. Obviously history and culture are interrelated. But what the museum shows is the ways that artists and everyday African American folk, they created food, they created music, they created many balms and resistances to some of the difficulties they faced. And out of them. And I think it's really important, you know, when I walked into the museum and saw basically the pot my grandmother cooked all her good food in, I saw myself! And I also tasted some meals I miss quite a bit.  

But I also think about, you know, she made a stew once, and I remember asking her what the fish was, and she said it was gar. I said gar? Now, gar is this bottom feeder, just terrible fish! If you know! And it tasted like, you know, name your favorite delicious high-end fish.  

And I think that transformation is part of the cultural thing that people want to experience in the museum. They want to experience that kind of transformation. That kind of recognition. And sometimes it is a reckoning. And I think of the reckoning in the big sense of to reevaluate, to reconsider, but also the African American idea of, you know, I'm gonna reckon something. I'm going to think about it, and also to see.  

And so those aspects are really coursing through, I think, where we are at now and where we can be in the future.  

 

Kevin Gover: 
And so, Tey, you worked at the Hispanic Cultural Center in New Mexico. Do you see it that way too, that we're viewing the same things through different eyes when we have these different museums.  

 

Tey Marianna Nunn:  
I think that ethnic-specific museums or, you know, subject-specific museums really arose out of the need, and probably at the same time this report was issued that we're talking about, a need for a place and space of our own, keep on repeating "place and space!" But it arose from a need because mainstream institutions weren't showing the differences, right? They were showing the sort of solid tale, and relating history depends on who is the storyteller. Who is the chronicler, who is the person in charge, who is the person in power. So when we have museums where we can sort of do deep-dive community work in those fields, when other museums don't have the capacity or perhaps the expertise on staff, which is completely changing museums now, but in the past... I think you need both. Because I think there's too many stories to tell not to have both simultaneously. So with the Women's Museum and with the Women's Initiative, we have a lot more stories to tell that we'll be able to tell throughout the Smithsonian, and within the physical museum.  

 

Kevin Gover:  
Yeah, so, Theo, Alan Curtis was challenging us in his opening comments to find ways to measure impact, and what are your thoughts about how museums would go about judging the quantity and quality of impact that we're having on these communities and on these conversations?  

 

Theo Gonzalves: 
Sure. It's a great question. Well, a lot of that can be dealt with in terms of better quantitative tools that allow us to survey who's coming into the museum. But, you know, Secretary Bunch also has made quite a big deal about the fact that to be on the Mall, to have feet into the various units is not enough. The idea of the Smithsonian being able to reach a billion people a year really has to be done digitally, and there's going to be a lot of information that the Smithsonian can learn. And I think one of the things that can be brought about and understood is a sense of, I think tradition and community that have been waiting to be represented at the Smithsonian for a very long time.  

I think we have to be real about, also, the institution in which we work. There's a lot of reparative work that this institution has to come to grips with. Like many museums, they functioned as institutions of extraction, as institutions of hierarchy, to uphold certain hierarchies in life, in culture, in policy. And so I'm very thankful to be in the company of these fellow directors. Because they get the notion of what reparative work means. It's not simply doing the work that they're doing, but it's also having to undo the work of what has been done, where people have been misrepresented, insulted, and cast out, and communities from coast to coast, island to island, have been waiting for a chance to tell their story.  

So I'm thankful to be able to work with Asian Pacific American Center, because I think, you know, one of the stories that we're having to think about when we think about community impact is in the middle of this crisis, of this pandemic, and also the anti-Asian violence that we've been thinking about, I think about this example of the Auntie Sewing Squad on the west coast. Mostly Asian American women who realized that there was a crisis afoot. State and market had fallen apart. Supply chains were broken. People needed very practical things: Elastic, fabric, distribution systems, and hundreds of women, really starting with Asian and Pacific American women but branching to hundreds of thousands of people, to get to people what was really needed. Personal protective equipment, masks. And understanding that this is what is really needed, not charity. Charity is not what is needed in a crisis. This is mutual aid. This is what we need right now in this particular moment. By hook or crook, they proved that aunties get stuff done.  

(Laughter.) 

And this is an Asian American tradition. So when I think of Christina Wong and Valerie Tso, it allows me to think, and us practitioners here, it allows us to think about the traditions of what mutual aid has meant to allow us to find a shared narrative. I don't think we need a single story of America. We need to have multiple stories of what our solidarities are about, what our mutual aid traditions are about. Benevolent societies during Jim Crow. Food programs for young children, or health clinics for seniors, or community job boards for folks in different neighborhoods.  

All of those represent different kinds of traditions. Not simply Asian American and Pacific islander. They stretch across traditions. And I think it's up to us to help unlock these stories so that people can understand. These are stories that people had at the ready. They've gotten buried because of different ideas of how we think we got where we are. But we have those traditions of mutual aid. And we cannot forget what moment we're in. That's the moment that I think Auntie Sewing Squad reminds me of. We're still in the middle of a cries us.  -- crisis. What's the role of a historian? I hope we can play a part in that. The Smithsonian museum plays the role of a mirror that people can see themselves in that Kevin was talking about. But it can also act as a light, shrine a light on other cultures, regions, and neighborhoods, and we can say, I see myself in different parts of this country, and thank goodness there's a museum that allows me to see that.

 

Kevin Gover: 
Yeah, I think aunties are one of those things that really are universal, right? We all have aunties, and they all fill that role for us.  

Deborah, one of the most startling statistics I've read in the past few years is that there are more museums in the United States than there are Starbucks and McDonald's stores combined. And it really had never -- it had never occurred to me. But when you start looking for them, there are museums everywhere. And so obviously, even as large and grand as the Smithsonian is, we're not so large when compared to the sum total of the museums out there in our country.  

So, in working on your initiative, how are you thinking about engaging with those local institutions and really... working with them to try to achieve some of our objectives?

  

Deborah Lynn Mack:  

As you said, there are -- there are SO many. Not all of them are involved, or even interested, in what we might call social justice work. That still leaves not only dozens, that leaves hundreds of partners, many of whom our various programs already have relationships with.  

As I had mentioned before, there are museums that have been doing this work, we could call it social justice work, we can call them civil rights museums, the museum in Seattle, the National Japanese American Museum in California. There are larger and smaller, and many of them community-focused, neighborhood-focused, because they decided that they would serve very directly constituents who did not find services, did not find representation, did not find ways to be heard elsewhere. Whether they addressed and focused themselves on very specific and pressing issues, or larger issues of self-representation and creativity, the bottom line of economics, you name it. We have -- one of the great advantages of this initiative is that we are inheriting multiple relationships because of Theo's work, because of Tey Marianna's work, because of the work of many others that have worked with the Smithsonian, so they begin to understand who we are and what we do and what we don't do, have confidence in telling us what we could be doing better, are teaching us how to listen better, and have enough trust with us to allow us to work and try out, to experiment with them and through them, because they can really act as, in many ways, interpreters on some of these other national goals that we may have. Again, I feel Smithsonian will learn as much from these museums, the thousands of museums that exist around the country, where -- and many places that Smithsonian has not yet ventured -- as anything else. And we see this as a great opportunity. Not only the multidisciplinary nature of this, but in a sense the truly multicultural nature of this, across class, across region and geography, across political leaning, is a major opportunity for Smithsonian to even more fully represent the nation. Represent who we are.  

 

Kevin Gover:  
Yeah. I'm going to ask everyone for some closing thoughts, but I really want to focus around, again, around the fundamental subject of our conversation, and that is, we're all part of this very large institution, and in that respect, we have resources and access to resources that very few others do. We really are in a privileged position. So how do we -- what is our responsibility to deploy these resources to the cause of equity and equality in our country? We could choose not to, could we not? So, do we have --  

(Laughter.) 

What is our obligation in that respect? And I'll start with Theo.

 

Theo Gonzalves:
(Laughing) that's a great question. You know, I think about one of the most important documents, I think, that's ever been written, and that's the Letter from Birmingham Jail by Dr. King, and it was a note that was created out of sheer frustration, because he's thinking about how white liberal ministers are telling him to wait, that his tactics demanded another kind of response. And he was thinking about 1963, but he's thinking about 1863, and the question is, how long do you want us to wait? I think those of us in the museum have to act on the certain and similar agency and urgency, which is we cannot wait to tell these stories. Just like Kevin Young, we cannot wait to collect these items, to tell this history, to tell it now. When I come home and tell my partner I love her, it's not like, I love you tomorrow, I love you next week. It's about the present. That is a performative statement about what it means to be in the present. And we can bring that sense of that kind of love to our practice. It has to be as urgent as how we love. And so that for me should be the effort that should guide us. We cannot hold back. We cannot wait.

 

Kevin Gover:
And Tey, what is your answer to that question? What is our obligation?

 

Tey Marianna Nunn:  
I think we don't have a choice. I think we're absolutely obligated to make more equitable history or stories of what you call America, the Americas. You know, we have to have different perspectives. And they have to be told in different ways. It can't be through one person's lens, or can't be through an old-fashioned guise, and what we have to do is move backwards and look at even just how we described -- we're looking at how gender has been described historically in Smithsonian catalogs. So we have to look backwards, go fix that, so we can move forward with it fixed. Does that make sense? And we just, you know, we have an incredible team working on this, and I think -- we don't have a choice. We have to act.

 

Kevin Gover:
Deborah, I mean, did you get into the museum business in order to be an agent of social change?

 

Deborah Lynn Mack:
Actually, absolutely! That was, when I was invited to create a department that would support and amplify the work of African American museums around the country, when I joined the African American Museum of History and Culture, it was specifically with that charge. I had declined that offer the first two times when it was a general, wouldn't you like to join the Smithsonian? Because I'd seen a long time what Smithsonian practice was, and how it could take a hundred years to do something. But given a charge that was very clear, and given a charge that basically said, you know, that an activist stance, an engaged community stance, a listening and collaborative stance would be totally appropriate, and that was the history that I brought to the museum, it's been really excellent. It's been great to bring on the next two generations of practitioners, of staff, across Smithsonian, to see them engage in this work in ways that actually reinforces their activism, their sense of equity, their sense of social justice, and in a sense that also tells them that when they come to Smithsonian, they can bring their total selves to Smithsonian. They can bring their histories and their aunties and their communities and their collections and their beliefs with them, and THAT is part of who we are. I think that Smithsonian, in many ways, the way that -- the Foreign Service, when I go abroad and I'm looking at U.S. embassies now, it's nothing like American representation that I saw even 10 years ago. You can go anywhere and it actually looks like our country. And Smithsonian is in many ways becoming that way, not just in appearance. This is not about diversity per se. This is about really welcoming people to engage with who they fully are. So I believe this is an exciting time. I also believe it's an obligation, given that the American people are the ones who fund much of what we do.  

We are in their debt. And we are obligated to follow through in that way.

 

Kevin Gover:
Yeah.  

And is that why you came to the Smithsonian, Anthea?

 

Anthea Hartig:
It is, actually! I was at a point in my life and my career where there was no higher calling than to do my best every day to lead the National Museum of American History. I think to your question, Kevin, it's Talmudic for me. It's the classic "if not now, when, and if not us, then who shall do this work, shall make these changes, shall lead as best and humbly as we can in service", as my director Deborah so nicely said. In service always to the people of the United States, and the complexities, as Tey said, of the Americas. I do take it as the charge that the Kerner Commission laid out for us, that David Walker laid out for us in his appeal in 1830, that Phyllis Wheatley did two generations before. The fundamental needs of a democratic and civilized society are domestic peace and social justice.

 

Kevin Gover:
Nice. And I'll give the last word to you, Kevin. Are museums going to change the world in the way we'd like?

 

Kevin Young:
I think so, actually. I think they already have in many ways. I think some of what I see at the Smithsonian, and I'm newly here, is that kind of change, that kind of transformation, and what I think, what I love about it is that it's physical. You can go into the museum and see the transformation. You can stare out at the Washington Monument, which is our neighbor, and which our corona, our crown effect, exactly mirrors the angle of. You can go and see, speaking of the Poor People's Campaign that Alan so eloquently mentioned, you can see in our museum a wall from the Poor People's Campaign in Resurrection City. I was struck seeing it at all the languages on it. The English, the Spanish. People talking about and taking democracy in their hands and effecting change. And I think the museum does that, too, through its collections, but also its connections. I think a lot about how we can change how people think of collections, because as you'll recall, there was a moment where people thought the museum not only couldn't be built, may shouldn't be built, but couldn't be filled. But what we've seen is an outpouring of people caretaking Harriet Tubman's handkerchief, shawl, and veil for generations. The Poor People's Campaign wall, people had kept it and held onto it. So it's not just believing in the museum, but believing in the people who believe in the museum. And to me that's crucial to the future and to all of us.

 

Kevin Gover:
Very nice. Well said. Well, listen, thank you all for this conversation. I enjoyed it very much. I hope that our audience did as well. Thank all of you for joining us this evening. We'd like to especially thank the Mellon and Eisenhower Foundations and Alan Curtis for bringing us together this evening. Please continue to follow the work of these museums and these initiatives, and the work of the Eisenhower Foundation. We thank you for joining us, and good night. 

 

(End of program). 

Smithsonian Under Secretary for Museums and Culture Kevin Gover, along with Anthea M. Hartig, Elizabeth MacMillan Director, National Museum of American HistoryKevin Young, Andrew W. Mellon Director, National Museum of African American History and CultureTheo Gonzalves, Interim Director, Smithsonian Asian Pacific American CenterDeborah L. Mack, Director, Smithsonian “Our Shared Future” Initiative; and Tey Mariannna Nunn, Director, Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative; hosted a lively conversation on how museums and cultural institutions can serve as an engine for social justice and the changes needed to end racial and economic inequality.

This conversation was supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in cooperation with the Milton S. Eisenhower Foundation.

Building Washington's Landmarks

Enslaved and Free Black Labor and the Making of the Capital

Recorded April 29, 2022.

    Building Washington's Landmarks: Enslaved and Free Black Labor and the Making of the Capital

    -- Good evening. My name is Dr. Felicia Bell and I am the senior advisor to the director, Dr. Anthea Hartig, our Elizabeth McMillan director of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Welcome to our museum. We're honored to host the Building America's Landmarks, Enslaved and Free Black Labor and the making of the capital as a part of the 175th anniversary of the Smithsonian Institution. As we are commemorating this occasion, we acknowledge where we are physically in the greater Washington DC region. We acknowledge the precedence of the Piscataway, Pamunkey and (indistinct) tribes and their descendants. We also acknowledge the many slave pens and slave trading farms that existed on the national mall or within a stone's throw of it. Wherever we are, let us acknowledge and give our respects and give our respect and gratitude to native peoples for the opportunity to work and live in their territories and to the descendants of enslaved Africans who made significant contributions to our nation's economy and built environment. It is now my pleasure to introduce recorded remarks from the 14th secretary of the Smithsonian, Lonnie G Bunch II.

     

    -- And thanks everybody for taking part in this session today that I'm very excited about. I'm so pleased that this event will examine the role free and enslaved black people played in the making of this country. As we celebrate 175 years of the Smithsonian and look ahead to celebrating it's vital that we honestly look at our entire past, not just the parts that we're proudest of. This panel helps us to understand and to do just that. When we were creating the National Museum of African American History and Culture, I can't tell you how many people wanted us to omit or downplay slavery. We certainly could have focused only on uplift, a celebration of the modern cultural and artistic contributions and black success stories. There are plenty of those stories to be found in the museum, but to eliminate the struggle and the sacrifice of our ancestors to ignore how enslaved African Americans literally built the nation would've been unacceptable. One can tell a great deal about a country, not just by what it remembers by what it chooses to forget. In the United States our tortured racial past is our greatest taboo. Despite the preference by so many to forget, I know that for the museum to succeed, it would need to look unflinchingly at that history. And that's why we told the explicit story of the transatlantic slave trade within its walls. But the building itself also tells the story of enslaved and free black labor. It's detailed exterior filagree panels, pay attention to the prolific and work created by people of color in Charleston and New Orleans. The African American influence on these cities is powerful. I'm always struck by most American's limited knowledge about the institution of slavery and how much it altered the trajectory of the nation. I'd like to think that the African American museum has played a part in changing that for the better. So too, will this discussion. I welcome this candid panel, which will discuss the impact, legacy and contemporary residents of people whose efforts are often erased from the narrative. The discussion will include the construction of our iconic Smithsonian castle building, as well as the landmarks that come to mind when people think of the nation's capital, the white house, the capital building itself, Georgetown University, the landscape of Washington, DC, as well as the rest of the country would look far different without the labor, without the skill of free and enslaved African Americans. Thank you for your participation today. This discussion is important because it's emblematic of the Smithsonian's effort to provide an unvarnished history that will allow Americans to have a greater understanding of their country and themselves. They will be made better by remembering not by forgetting. Thank you so much.

     

    -- We are grateful to the secretary for those remarks. Now, as we prepare to receive our panel, I'm delighted to introduce our moderator for the evening, Dr. Martha Jones. Professor Martha S. Jones is the Society of Black Alumni Presidential Professor of History and a professor at the SNF Agora Institute at the Johns Hopkins University. She is a legal and cultural historian whose work examines how black Americans have shaped the story of American democracy. Professor Jones's most recent book "Vanguard How Black Women Broke Barriers Won the Vote and Insisted on Equality For All" published in 2020 was selected as one of Time Magazine's 100 must read books for 2020. She has won several awards for her many published books, including the Organization of American Historians' Liberty Legacy Award for best book in civil rights history and the American Historical Association's Little John Griswold prize for the best book in American legal history. Professor Jones is a public historian and writes for broader audiences at several publications, including the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Atlantic. She has curated exhibitions at the Williams C. Clements Library, and she is an expert consultant for museum, film and video productions with the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, the Charles Wright Museum of African American History, PBS American Experience, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Netflix and Arte, a European public service TV channel. Professor Jones has earned a PhD in history from Columbia University and a JD from the CUNY school of law, which bestowed upon her the degree of doctor of laws honors Kaza in 2019. She serves on several boards, including the US Capital Historical Society. Please welcome Dr. Martha Jones. (audience applauding)

     

    -- Good evening. Thank you very much to Dr. Bell for the generous introduction. I wanna extend my own gratitude to the Smithsonian Institution for inviting me to be part of this 175th anniversary and to the National Museum of American History for hosting this event. It's my pleasure this evening to introduce our speakers in the order in which they'll be presenting. And please, if you'd hold your applause until after I've completed the introductions. First, Matthew Costello is senior historian for the White House Historical Association, his first book, "The Property of the Nation, George Washington's Tomb Mount Vernon, and the Memory of the First President" was a finalist for the George Washington book prize. He's currently co-editing and contributing to a volume of essays entitled "Mourning the Presidents", which will be published by the University of Virginia Press in 2023. Dr. Adam Rothman is a professor in the history department at Georgetown University. His most recent book "Facing Georgetown's History, A Reader on Slavery Memory and Reconciliation" is co-edited with Elsa Baraza Mendoza. It is a collection of primary sources, essays, and articles, that document Georgetown's history of slavery and the university's recent efforts to confront that past. Dr. Rothman served on Georgetown's working group on slavery, memory and reconciliation, and is currently the principal curator of the Georgetown slavery archive. The honorable Jane Campbell is the fourth president and CEO of the US Capital Historical Society. Ms. Campbell, the first and to date, the only woman to serve as mayor of Cleveland, Ohio also has significant experience in the United States Congress. She served Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, as chief of staff from 2009 to 2013. Ms. Campbell's public service career includes six terms in the Ohio house of representatives. Dr. Felicia Bell, who you've met is a senior advisor for Dr. Anthea M. Hartig, who is the Elizabeth McMillan director at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. In previous years, Dr. Bell was the director of education and programs at the US Capital Historical Society in Washington, DC. While there she curated a nationally traveling exhibition called From Freedom Shadow African Americans and the United States Capital, provided expert testimony to Congress for the recognition of enslaved labor used to construct the US Capital and wrote her dissertation on the same topic at Howard University. Mary Elliott is the curator of American slavery at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture where she co-curated the museum's inaugural, slavery and freedom exhibition. She curated and wrote the special broad sheet section of the New York Times' 1619 project and curated and wrote the content for the museum's award winning inaugural digital humanities feature entitled the searchable museum, a graduate of Howard University and Catholic University law school. Mary is also a former elected council member of the American Historical Association. Now we can applause. (audience applauding) Just a bit of housekeeping before I turn over the microphone. Our speakers have provided slides to accompany their presentations, and please keep your questions in mind. At the end of their presentations we'll take questions from our audience. And now we begin with Dr. Matthew Costello of the White House Historical Society.

     

    -- Thank you, Dr. Jones for the introduction. Before I begin, I just wanted to acknowledge Dr. Felicia Bell and her colleagues here at this Smithsonian for all their hard work to put this event on for us this evening. It's a pleasure to be here with you all. Tonight's program touches on the history of some of our country's most iconic landmarks, buildings and institutions. More specifically, it explores the lives and experiences of the people who built these symbols. In the case of the white house, hundreds of enslaved and free African Americans contributed to every facet of its construction, stone coring, land clearing, timber cutting, brick production, transportation, assembly, and a number of other labor intensive tasks. These individuals constructed the home and the office, for the president of the United States, and what in modern times has become the most recognizable home of a head of state in the world. But this would've never been possible without free enslaved black laborers who made it so. I'd also like to add that there is plenty of excellent scholars on this topic, work by Jesse Holland, Clarence Susan, Bob Arnbeck and others and these and many more are listed on our initiatives website were foundational to our research when we began it several years ago. Launched in February, 2020 slavery in the president's neighborhood tells the history of the African Americans who built, lived in and worked at the white house. Our homepage has five interactive elements, a timeline of research articles, an index of the enslaved people that we have identified thus far, frequently asked questions, educational resources, such as classroom materials, videos, programs, additional reading, and a 360 virtual tour of the Decatur house slave quarters, which we co tour with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The story of slavery in the president's neighborhood begins much earlier than 1790 when Congress passed the residents act to move the federal government. The new capital carved out two sates that allowed slavery, Virginia and Maryland ensured that the institution would intertwine with the city's social, political and economic development. It became evident quickly that paid laborers brought a variety of issues to the three commissioners for the district as they often stopped showing up for work, were difficult to recruit and maintain and were prone to striking for higher wages depending on the season and if the government wasn't paying them on time. The commissioners turned to local slave owners who were willing to hire out slave workers for the construction of public buildings. This too was not a new idea as slave owners had been doing this for some time. Well, before this area became known as Washington DC, our index currently features more than 200 names of people who were involved in the initial construction, but we also know that this list is far from complete and that there are many more names to add. Now, quantifying this workforce is difficult for several reasons. The number of workers was constantly changing depending on the time of year and the phase of construction, there was constant movement of workers between the white house and other public building projects, recruitment of workers or lack thereof resulted in hiring more in slave labors. And while there are payroll records, these only tell us part of that story. Yes, they can help us identify names and occupations, but race and ethnicity was not always recorded. So we need to use other context clues, things such as occupation, listing of first and last names, whether or not the individual's wages were signed for by someone else in order to best determine their status. Generally speaking, the signature of someone else's name suggested that this person was their owner, but this wasn't always the case. It just furthers the possibility which then leads to more research on the person who signed. After the completion of the white house. Many presidents brought enslaved workers with them to Washington DC. I think that's pretty common knowledge. This slide lists the names of presidents who used enslaved labor at the white house and presidents who enslaved people at some point in their lives. Some such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, and the like are well known and documented. Others may come as a surprise, such as John Quincy Adams who's often thought of as an anti-slavery opponent, fighter of the gag rule in Congress. What we in collaboration with other scholars realized was that while John Quincy Adams did not own enslaved people and he did not hire out enslaved people, there was a connection to slavery through his marriage, through his wife, Luisa Catherine Adams. During their time in the white house, her nephew Johnson Helen, and his enslaved valet Halsey had been brought to live with the Adams's at the white house. And the Helens were nieces and nephews of Luisa Catherine. So even though John Quincy Adams didn't purchase or hire out enslaved people were part of his household. And for several years, he benefited from their labor. Now, one of our more important discoveries was made by my colleague, Lena Man, who followed the trail of footnotes of landscape historian Jonathan Pliska. John has written a comprehensive and exhaustive study of the history of the white house grounds. And one of his notes mentioned payroll records for grading and improving the landscape as well as other projects at the president's house, such as the copping of the roof, building the north wall and gates and work on the north yard. Now this record shows the list of names of workers who were employed on the president square in the month of June 1818 during the presidency of James Monroe. In a three year period between of the commissioner public buildings revealed that some 32 enslaved individuals were working on the white house grounds. And in today, what we know as Lafayette Park. Now we could tell from looking closely that any time there were two names in one signature, this likely meant that a slave owner was signing to collect these wages for their worker. For example, here, you can see Richard Brisco Charles signed by RS Brisco. Charles appears throughout the payroll records during this time. And later emerges as Charles Shade. Brisco continued to sign for his wages, and we are uncertain where Shade comes from, but we hope now with a full name, we can better unearth his story. The appropriations bill on the lower left is dated April 20th, 1818, and states as follows for the wall north of the president's house with gates and iron railing and the width of the house $3,518. For graduating and improving the president's square $10,000. Up to this point, it was well known that enslaved labor had been used for the construction of the white house. It was well known that it was used for the rebuild after the British burned the white house in 1814. And I would say that most people knew that slave owning presidents, enslaving presidents, brought enslaved people with them to the white house to work inside the house in the household. However, this was the first time that I had seen government appropriations being used to employ slave workers beyond construction and outside the home itself. As our research continues, we hope to analyze similar projects such as the additions of the south and north porticoes in 1824, 1829, the construction of a series of stables and other outlined buildings on the grounds and the white house conservatory in 1857. In doing so, we seek to identify more individuals, both free and enslaved to recognize their contributions and weave them back into the narrative. When we launched our initiative, we had no idea that in about six weeks time, a pandemic would engulf the United States and the world, or just a couple months after that protests and demonstrations against systemic racism and police brutality would spur new dialogue about the legacy of slavery and reconciliation. The white house has come to represent many of the ideals enshrined in our country's founding documents, but it also embodies America's paradoxical relationship between slavery and freedom in the nation's capital. The White House Historical Association is committed to telling a more inclusive and comprehensive history of the white house, as well as the people who lived and worked there. And if you are interested in learning more or wish to share any information with us in our initiative, please visit our website or you can contact us directly at spn@whha.org. Thank you for your time. Dr. Adam Rothman will now present about the history of Georgetown University. (audience applauding)

     

    -- Thank you, Dr. Costello. I'd like to thank Dr. Bell and the Smithsonian for staging this event and for giving me the honor of being included on it with so many other distinguished scholars and public historians. I also want to thank all of you who are here today for coming out and listening to us. I think we're all getting used to these kinds of public events in person, and it's just really nice to see you. So thanks for coming. The history of Georgetown and its relationship to the Jesuits is really a microcosm of the whole history of American slavery from the rise of enslavement in the Chesapeake in the to the founding of Georgetown at the moment of the formation of the new United States with all its contradictions of freedom and slavery, to the ways that slavery built the new country to the emergence of the domestic slave trade in the 19th century and the forced migration of enslaved people from the upper south to the deep south, to the history of abolition and emancipation and the legacies of that process. Georgetown is a microcosm of that whole history. Here's an illustration of Georgetown in the 1830s when there were only two buildings on campus, one of which known as old north still exists today. Our focus today is on the role that enslaved people and free people of color played in the building of the landmarks of Washington, DC of the construction of these sites. And to be honest, there's not a whole lot I can say about that with respect to the buildings at Georgetown, our records are quite scanty on that front. One of the very few records we have about the use of enslaved laborers and black workers in general on the construction of buildings is a ledger entry from the 1810s in which a contractor named Mr. Iraad was paid $50 for employing black carpenters on the building known as old north. That's one of the only pieces of archival evidence that we have to show the role of black workers in the construction of the buildings. But there's a broader story about Georgetown's connections to slavery. On the one hand, Georgetown was connected to a set of Jesuit plantations across Maryland. And the original idea for Georgetown was the profits from those plantations would subsidize the education of white boys and men at Georgetown. The business model didn't quite work out for the Jesuits and in the late 1830s, the Jesuit leadership of Maryland and of Georgetown made the fateful decision to sell virtually all of the people they owned. It turned out to be more than 300 people in the end. They sold that community to two planters in Louisiana for $115,000. And the original down payment on that sale was then loaned to the college by the Jesuits to pull the school out of a crushing debt. So I don't know if I would be standing before you today as a professor of history, particularly the history of slavery at Georgetown, if it was not for the history of slavery at Georgetown, That's one set of relationships between the school and slavery. That's gotten a lot of publicity. That story by now is fairly well known. It's been circulated through the media, but what I think a lot of people don't fully understand is that Georgetown College, the campus itself was a site of enslavement. The campus was a place where enslaved people lived, worked and died. And what I wanna show you now is just a few pieces of archival evidence from Georgetown's own archives and other archives that document that history. So you can get a sense of the historical record that we're working with. This record is from the college financial ledgers. In the early years of the college, they kept lists of the people residing at the college. And you can see in this list, there are almost 70 people at the college. The first name on the list is a Reverend Grassy, who was a Jesuit priest who was the president of the university. What follows are names of Jesuit priests, faculty and administrators at the university and students. But then if you look at the column on the far right, you see after John Sparrow's name, a list of names of people who are only recorded by first name, those are the enslaved people who lived at Georgetown in 1813. The year that this roster was recorded. Matt, Dick, Isaac, Peter, Molly, Nancy, Polly, Jenny, Chrissy, and Rachel. That's a lot of people, a lot of enslaved people on campus, especially in proportion to the overall numbers of students, faculty, and priests on campus. The enslaved people did all of the odd jobs around the school. They cooked, they cleaned, they did agricultural labor on the farm. They worked as domestic servants. They worked as teamsters, they worked as couriers. They did all the work that other people didn't want, free people didn't want to do. This is the nature of the archival evidence we have that records the history of slavery at Georgetown, it's fragmentary, it gives us little glimpses, little snippets of people, their names, and in some cases, but not much more than that. Sometimes you can connect people across different documents in the archival record. So you might see the name Isaac, on this list. This is 1813. This is the next time Isaac appears. This is a runaway ad placed in a Washington newspaper by a Jesuit priest who is the clerk of the college named John McElroy. And it says $30 reward ran away from Georgetown College on Saturday night, the 29th instant, a negro man named Isaac about 23 years old. And it goes on to describe him in some detail in the clothes that he was wearing. And it tells us a little bit about him. He has learned to read tolerably well, and as likely he may have procured a written pass. It is opposed that he's gone to Pennsylvania, presumably to seek his freedom. He was raised at Mrs. Johnson's near Briantown, Charles County. For the most part, when you have an advertisement like this, that's pretty much the whole story. You don't know what happened, but McElroy kept a journal, which is in Georgetown's archives. And we know from his journal an entry from that same period that Isaac was arrested, was captured and arrested in Baltimore and then sold for his sin of running away. So this is the nature of slavery on Georgetown's campus. This is also the nature of the archival record that we have to understand this history. I mentioned that enslaved people not just lived on campus, but died as well. This is a record from the burial records of Holy Trinity Church, just outside the gates of Georgetown. The Sacramento records of Holy Trinity are also in Georgetown's collections. This is a burial record for a woman named Margaret Smallwood, who was buried in a cemetery known as the college ground in 1837. It says Margaret Smallwood colored wife to Charles Smallwood from St. Mary's County belonging to Georgetown College was buried in the college ground. The college ground is on the site of Georgetown's campus today, but it no longer exists. In the 1950s Georgetown built a science building on that site. And the cemetery is not marked in any way. So there's a longer story to that cemetery, but we walk across it every day without knowing that it's there. The campus has a long history of the use of enslaved labor. From the early 1790s. We have records of a woman named Suki who worked on campus all the way up until the abolition of slavery in Washington, DC. This is a ledger entry for a man named Aaron Edmondson, who was the last enslaved person to work on Georgetown's campus in bondage. He was leased out to the university by a local owner named Anne Forrest. Aaron Edmondson worked on campus in 1859 through March of 1862. The following month, he was emancipated by DC's Compensated Abolition Act. A few weeks after that his owner or his former owner, Anne Forrest submitted a petition for compensation for the loss of a human property. So Anne Forrest was compensated but not Aaron Edmundson. That in brief is the history of slavery on Georgetown's campus. Since the 2015, 2016 academic year, when the Working Group on Slavery Memory and Reconciliation met Georgetown has been engaged in an intensive process of reconciliation and repair. I don't have time right now to tell you all about what's been going on, but we are engaged in a renovation of our landscape of memory with new stakeholders, including the descendants of the people owned and sold by the Maryland Jesuits in Georgetown. Now that's my presentation. Our next presentation will be from Ms. Jean Campbell, who will present on the US Capital Historical Society. (audience applauding)

     

    -- Good evening. Well, it is an honor to be in this distinguished group. I do not have a PhD. I have an undergraduate degree in history and an experience as a public official, which is yet another line of work. Now I wanna talk to you about the United States Capital Historical Society, which is the congressionally chartered nonprofit organization charged with telling the story of the capital of the United States, the art and architecture of the capital and the people who work in the capital in a manner that inspires informed patriotism is what it says in our authorizing legislation. And one of the great joys of being the president of the society is that you get to claim credit for things that happened long before you came. And so that's what I'm going to do today, because I want you to see and understand what the society has done as part of this entire effort to create our public history to include people and to tell the story. We claim as one of our distinguished alums, Dr. Felicia Bell, who you heard at the beginning, she came to work for the society in 2002 as the director of education and outreach. Felicia Bell now mind you But at that time, Felicia Bell was working on her studies at Howard and working at the society. And she developed an extraordinary interest in telling the story of what had black people done to build the capital, was there a role of enslaved labor? And those stories were not easy to find. They were not well documented. And she made it her business to encourage the society to tell that story. And so with Felicia's guidance, the society raised some money from the United Parcel Service. Felicia built a traveling exhibit that was called From Freedom Shadow that to this day lives on our website. It originally was a 12 panel traveling exhibit that chronicled the role of African Americans and enslaved labor in the construction of the capital. And this exhibit opened Dr. Joe and Joe will appreciate it in Baltimore, Maryland. And there were two sets. And these just gives you a few. There were images that began to tell the story that in fact this building, which is the iconic building, we love our friends at the white house and the white house is certainly a special building. But if you go across the world, the iconic building that people see and imagine that is the symbol of American democracy is the United States Capital. And that building, that building was built by people who were enslaved. And that story had not been told in any broad manner. So Felicia she's a bit of a firecracker, you're gonna hear from her soon. She began to raise this question over and over and over again. And she became one of the go-to people. She testified in front of the United States Congress, the United States Congress created a panel to look at the role of enslaved labor. And at the same time we were building the capital visitor center and quickly the capital visitor center was authorized to be built in 1998 after the two police officers were shot, but Congress didn't authorize the money until after 911 in 2001. So the building was being built, in that conversation originally, the place where you enter the capital was called the great hall. It was gonna be called the great hall. Before it opened Congress passed a piece of legislation to call it emancipation hall. And so that you would begin telling the story of the role of enslaved people in building the capital from the moment you entered the capital visitors center. Even with that being said, you could see that there was not part of what we are concerned about is public memory. How do you have public memory? And in 2012, then Congressman John Lewis and then Senator Blanch Lincoln worked on another piece of legislation, another act of Congress, this one to create a marker that would commemorate the important role played by enslaved labor and the Capital Historical Society just couple months ago had Senator Lincoln and Felicia tell the story of that legislation and why it was important that we have public memory. So you can see that the way we presented the From Freedom Shadow was not just to tell the story of the role of enslaved labor, but to then take it to the engagement of African Americans as full participants at the capital. And so you could see, this was one of, we used the picture of the black caucus standing so that this was designed for students. So as it went from classroom to classroom, they could see not just the history, but also the current situation. And you can see that the stories and images of Frederick Douglass, Senator Blanch Bruce, and higher revels tells the story. Some of which are in Dr. Jones's book as she talked about "Vanguard", how the role of black women in earning the right. And so we like to feel like our engagement in supporting Felicia and her work and helping to tell it is meeting our mission. We were also privileged because Felicia was working on her dissertation. And so what the society did was they ended up saying, okay, one day a week, you can work on your dissertation. And that will be our investment in making sure the story is told. So we are very grateful for your work Felicia. And so I just give you all the background about how it got done, but she's the one who can tell you what she did and what she learned and what's the real story, Dr. Bell. (audience applauding)

     

    -- Thank you, Jane for such a thoughtful presentation and your generosity as well. And for sharing about the importance of the US Capital Historical Society as a civic organization. Thank you so much. So I want to share with you about the construction history of the US capital. And I'd like to focus the presentation on labor procurement, conditions of labor, hazards of labor and the pace of labor. So the title of my presentation is called the Negros Alone Work, an overview of the enslaved and free black labor used to construct the United States capital. And we'll get to that quote in just a moment. Julian Niemcewicz was a Polish man who traveled all over really. And when he visited the United States, he made a visit to Washington DC, and he published his travel logs. And in his travel log about his experience in Washington, he wrote about what he saw at the capital construction site. It was 11 o'clock, no one was at work. They had gone to drink grog, this is what they do twice a day, as well as dinner and breakfast, all that makes four or five hours of relaxation. The negroes alone work. I have seen them in large numbers, and I was very glad that these poor unfortunates earned eight to $10 per week. My joy was not long lived. I am told that they were not working for themselves, their masters hire them out and retain all the money for themselves. What humanity, what a country of liberty, if at least they shared the earnings. In the beginning of this statement, Niemcewicz is referring to European craftsmen who had left the site to drink grog or that is rum mixed with water. Often the European laborers who were specifically sought after for their skills at stonework and stone cutting often would do what we would call today a strike, and because they would break their tools or they would need more compensation because Washington was expensive to live. So they would want more. It's still expensive to live here, but they would often protest and leave the work site. So my point is that enslaved labor was critical as you will had a captivated workforce. So he goes on to describe a system of labor procurement, commonly called hiring out in which enslavers hired out or leased enslaved people at a certain rate. And the commissioners of the district of Columbia established that rate at $5 per month per enslaved person. In some instances, if enslaved craftsmen worked on Sundays, they were allowed to keep their pay. As Sunday was typically a day of rest. But typically when enslaved people were hired out, it was at the owner's discretion if the enslaved person would receive any of that pay. And in some instances when enslaved people were hired out generally, and if the person who was hiring them gave them money to then give to the owner, the enslaved person would keep the money. Then that person who hired them would put an advertisement in a newspaper seeking for that enslaved person. So it's a much bigger system. So the commissioners basically used the system that they were familiar with for procuring labor, as they were owners of enslaved people themselves, or were familiar with the system in this area. So here is an image of payment for the work of an enslaved person. So it says St. Mary's County 10th, July, 1798, Mr. Thomas Monroe, who is a commissioner, please pay unto Mr. Phillip Power, the hire of negro Eric for the first and second quarter of the present year, yours Joseph Turner. So Joseph Turner enslaves Eric and wishes to pay Philip Power for Eric's hiring out. So this system of hiring out was used to pay third parties for debts, women who were widows used this system to earn money for themselves, send their children to school, pay tuition. It was almost like an insurance policy in some ways to help you along if you will. So after that payment was made, the commissioners, this is the other side of this. The commissioners wrote to Joseph Turner on July 12th, 1798 for the hire of Negro Eric 13 days in January and all the months of February, March, April, May, and June at $70 per annum, 13, I'm sorry, $32.04. Received payment from Thomas Monroe, 12, July, 1798, Phillip Power. So Phillip Power received the money for Eric's labor at the capital. Here, we have an instance of time sheet that was used to record labor at the capital. At the top of the time sheet, you'll see the names of individuals who have first and last names. As you go further down. Those were individuals who were not enslaved. Then as you go further down into the document, you begin to see individuals with first names only, and the letter N next to their name, denoting, that they were negro or enslaved, and next to their names you see the person who enslaved them. Do you all see that at the bottom of the document? Okay. Here we have two other documents telling us a little bit about the ways in which the commissioner supplied enslaved craftsman. So on the left is a document where it's sort of the flip side of this. It's a receipt. So the commissioners are saying to this individual that although we are paying you $5 a month per enslaved person, we will not pay for shoes. So they are charging this individual $10 for six pairs of shoes that were purchased. So the commissioners are charging Thomas Coran for six pairs of shoes. And on the left, you'll see the $10 written there. So when we think about the labor at the capital, it wasn't always at the capital. So some enslave craftsmen labored at quarries nearby. So at a Choir Creek in Stafford county, Virginia enslaved craftsmen labored heavily in the quarries. And even in the winter months, when ideally you wouldn't quarry stone, because when it rains the water seeps down in the crevices between the earth and the stone and forms ice, making it very difficult to coke stone from the earth. And so these men were working under those conditions in the cold weather and Peter Charles Lafont, who was responsible for designing the layout of the district of Columbia was in charge of the labor there at the quarry. And he wrote to Isaac Roberto, who was his assistant about keeping the labor going about the pace of labor. And he writes, but without waiting, let the hands meaning the enslaved people do the most they can. When the weather shall prove too severe, let them busy themselves in clearing away the rubble. And as often as it moderates, let them set about extracting the stone. So this is in December of 1791 in cold temperatures surely. Here is another document from the national archives where in working in those quarries, would've been difficult labor and surely in this document as well getting timbers apparently was as the commissioners purchased alcohol. And here in this instance, they purchased gallons of Brandy as a coping mechanism for enslaved craftsmen, who would've certainly labored heavily cutting trees, felling trees. So here is the document where labor is, I'm sorry, where Brandy was purchased. There is only one instance that I have found of resistance at the capital. And that was this document from 1827, where an enslaved craftsman named Daniel Brown was able to run away from the capital. And it reads, ran away from the subscriber on Sunday, the 28th Altima, a Negro man named Daniel who calls himself Daniel Brown. He is 23 years of age, about five feet nine inches high, very black shows a pleasant countenance when spoken to and has ears rather larger than common, which stand off from the head. He has a wide mouth and shows his teeth very much when he talks or laughs, speaks rather quick. And as if his mouth was full. He was purchased about a year ago from Mr. Kirby of Prince George's County, Maryland, and has been employed of late as a laborer at the capital. When he absconded, he had on a black cloth coat and light corded pendulums, the above reward and reasonable expenses will be paid for him if taken and secured out of the district of Columbia and Prince George's County or $10 if taken within the limits of the latter and delivered to me, Christina Hamilton residing near the Capitol Washington City. When I researched the city directories, I found Miss Hamilton's home to be where the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress currently stands today. So she lived quite near the capital. I also only found one instance of a fatality at the capital here's where a free black man named Nathaniel Bowen, unfortunately lost his life while laboring at the capital. A laborer on the capital, a free colored man of the name of Nathaniel Bowen was crushed to death on Wednesday last by the falling of a block of stone upon him of near two tons weight, the stone had been raised from its position in the dome for the purpose of setting it with more precision and was suspended by the pulleys 18 or 20 inches above its bed, which the deceased was cleansing for its reception. In stooping to do this he had placed some of his limbs and a part of his body under the block. And while in that situation, the lashings of the pulley gave way and the stone falling upon him put an instant period to his life. This is from 1822. Finally, Philip Reed we know is well documented as having been enslaved by Clark Mills, who was commissioned to cast the bronze on the statue of freedom at the top of the capital dome. Here, we have a receipt where Philip Reed was paid $41.25 for keeping fires under the molds in Clark Mills Foundry, which was located in Bladensburg, Maryland, not far from the district of Columbia. And there's the statue of freedom at the top of the capital dome. And here is where Clark Mills was compensated once Philip Reed was freed from the DC emancipation act and the DC compensation act compensated enslavers of enslaved people who were newly freed. So the government paid them for their loss of property. So here we have a listing of the 11 people that Clark Mills owned, including Philip Reed, who was listed last, but in the description that Clark Mills writes, he notes that he purchased Philip Reed in Charleston, South Carolina, and trained him in his studio in sculpting and working in a Foundry. And he strikes out Foundry and says in the business in which I do. So in other words, he's inflating Philip Reed's experience so that he can get the most he can from the compensation, even though he's only gonna get about $300, you see, but he inflates it so that he can get the most he can. In fact, Philip Reed is valued at $1,500. Do you see that at the bottom of the document? So he's not going to get all of that. But what you see in the records are enslavers saying things like she has all of her teeth, they have had the small pox, or trying to make it seem as if they are healthy so that they can get all of the money that they are allowed. Well, that concludes my presentation. I certainly appreciate your attention this evening. Finally, we're going have a presentation from Mary Elliot who's going to tell us about the Smithsonian Institution Building or the castle as we know it, thank you. (audience applauding)

     

    -- Good evening. It's a pleasure to be here this evening and to have the honor to speak about this very important history on the occasion of reflecting on the 175 years of the existence of the Smithsonian and the building of the Smithsonian castle. You know, when we think about older buildings, older structures, and we think about the idea that you want to know the history of that building. If you own an older building, you think about you wanna inspect the foundation, make sure there are no fishers, no cracks. And if there are, then you think about the ways that you can improve the foundation so you can build even better for the next generation to enjoy that older structure. And you also think about improvements, additions to add value to the structure. Today I'm gonna speak to you about foundational history, black laborers building the Smithsonian. James Smithson in 1826 wrote his last will and testament. And in his last will and testament, he bequeathed to his nephew, his estate, James Smithson was a European gentleman who was a scientist. He was an explorer. He was a collector. And he was of means. The nuance of that bequeath was that his nephew, if he died without an heir the estate would go to Washington City and become the foundation for the Smithsonian Institution. And the purpose would be for the increase and diffusion of knowledge. This is an image of one of the documents. One of the documents from his estate, his trust last will and testament. Unfortunately, his documents that ultimately came to the Smithsonian were lost in a fire in 1865. But the one thing we do know is foundationally the Smithsonian ensures that we do the increase and diffusion of knowledge. In 1846, Congress passed the Smithsonian Act of Organization to establish the Smithsonian, set aside funding. And by 1847, it was the time that we started to build the actual Smithsonian building known as the castle. But I want to take a moment to consider the landscape in which the castle rests, the landscape in which the Smithsonian exists. The landscape where it started was a landscape of slavery. Here you see images of the slave trading port in Alexandria, Virginia, you see images of slave coffles oftentimes slave coffles traveling past the capital. In DC it was a site of slavery where we had many different auction sites. We also had places like the Browns Indian Queen Hotel, a site where gentlemen gather to form the American Colonization Society because regardless of African Americans, if they were enslaved, if they were free, they were not seen as equal. And so the American Colonization Society and alliance of some people who were benevolent, some who were proslavery said we have to form an opportunity for free African Americans to find a place to exist beyond the shores of this nation. And so there was not really a receptive environment that looked at African Americans as equal or an environment in fact, that supported slavery. Washington DC did not just include enslaved African Americans, it include free African Americans as well. And so here we see an image of Paul Jennings who was enslaved by James and Dolly Madison. He ultimately gained his freedom and was part of a group of people, enslaved people along with free people who planned an escape for enslaved people to leave Washington DC. The unsuccessful attempt in what is known as the Pearl incident. We also have an image of Elizabeth Keckley, a woman who was enslaved, gained her freedom and had close associations with Mary Todd Lincoln, that proximity to power. And she was ultimately responsible for starting a benevolent organization to assist African Americans to transition from slavery to freedom. The first secretary of the Smithsonian was Joseph Henry. Joseph Henry had served for 14 years at Princeton University. He was a scientist and ultimately came to the Smithsonian in 1846. He had associations with the various Regents who served on the Regent's board for the Smithsonian. Again, understand Washington DC and the social and political climate at the time, the Regent's board included people like Lewis Agasies, scientists from Harvard University who traveled down to South Carolina and took photographs of enslaved African Americans to show the inferiority to white Americans supported by Harvard University. He also had associations with Abraham Lincoln, but he also had associations with Jefferson Davis. Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis also served as one of the regions for the Smithsonian. So what did it take to build the Smithsonian building, the castle? There was a gentleman. His name is John Park Custis Peter great grandson of Martha Custis Washington, the wife of president George Washington. John Park Custis Peter owned the Seneca Quarry in Montgomery County, Maryland near the CNO canal. We know that he enslaved at least 23 people and that those people enslaved African Americans likely worked alongside paid immigrant Europeans. We know that he placed runaway ads in local papers, and we know that he won the bid to provide the stone, to create the structure of the Smithsonian building known as the castle. The building structure actually was begun. It was built starting in 1847. Now understand what was that labor like? Imagine breaking rocks all day, back breaking work. Imagine that you were working day in and day out those large heavy rocks, tons in weight, and having to load them onto ships that travel down the CNO canal. Sometimes some of those rocks could fall on you, injure you in many different ways. And as was seen with the capital could even kill you. We don't know much about the personal lives or even the names of the people who were enslaved by John Park Custis Peter. But we do know again that he enslaved 23 people and owned the quarry that provided the material to build the Smithsonian building, the castle. We are continuing to do research into their lives. And that includes having to do research and look into the lives of the descendants to see what we can find, because the thing is, we don't just do this research to talk about black labor. We want to find out about the lived experiences of African Americans who helped to build the foundation of what we know as the Smithsonian. And so here we have this perspective where you see the Smithsonian castle itself, and you can see, again, that landscape of slavery, the Smithsonian castle was built between 1847 and 1855. You see the perspective of the capital in this shot to the left. And the castle is just down the way right across the water is where the Alexandria slave trading port existed. And you also see where the capital is right by the monument. Here is an image of the final Smithsonian building again, known as the capital. So Joseph Henry, again, as I mentioned, had to work with a diversity of people, including proslavery folks who were part of this Smithsonian Regents. Joseph Henry was contacted several times by the Washington Lecture Association to use the Smithsonian castle, to conduct a lecture series. He turned it down several times, ultimately he was made to comply and the Washington Lecture Association went forward with their lecture series. The majority of the lectures were about abolition. And so one of the last speakers to be invited to present was Frederick Douglas. Ultimately that was a bridge too far for Joseph Henry. And so the lecture series was shut down and Frederick Douglas was not allowed to actually conduct his presentation in the Smithsonian castle. I bring this up because it's very important again, to think about the climate and the environment of what it was like to be African American in Washington, DC, to have certain perceptions about African Americans, whether free or enslaved. I also wanna point out that at the time in 1850, again, as was mentioned in ended the slave trade in Washington DC. And in 1862, African Americans enslaved gained their freedom and their enslaves were compensated for the loss of their human property. One of the earliest known African American employees of the Smithsonian even prior to emancipation is Solomon Brown. Solomon Brown was a free African American man who worked with the Smithsonian. And although he had a plethora of responsibilities, including serving as a supervisor of sorts, he was still treated as less than other employees at the Smithsonian. He was revered among the Smithsonian administration, but still did not hold title like others. The one thing that really stands out about his story is that it's representative of many different African Americans who came after him. And even those who worked after freedom came. So he began working at the Smithsonian in 1852. The thing that stands out about Solomon Brown is that while he conducted his job at the Smithsonian castle, and he was not given the respect all the time that others did receive. In his own community, he garnered respect amongst African Americans. He was a poet, he was a community leader. And oftentimes we see African Americans who serve in these service positions or who serve in positions that they don't receive the titles, but while they may not get that respect at work, they find ways to get respect in their communities. They are seen as leaders. They are seen as important people in their communities, their churches, their schools, and so much more. Here you see an image of him in 1850, and this is an image of him with some of the people he worked with at the International Exchange Service in 1891. And then you also see the diversity of some of the Smithsonian employees in 1890, who worked at the United States National Museum. And you'll note the diversity of both working class white people and African Americans working alongside one another. So what's important to note is again, while we look at the history of the structure and we look at the history, the foundation, what it was built on, and even though the Smithsonian castle, the Center of the Smithsonian was built at a time of slavery in the nation. And even though we know about pro-slavery members of the region's board of the Smithsonian, we now look at the foundation of the Smithsonian and say, what did we grow out of? What are the things that we did and what are the things that we can do better now? What are the things that we can do to add African American voices as a seat at the table? So we think of some of the milestones that help to build that foundation stronger. And some of those milestones include John Canard, who is the founder of the Anacostia Museum. The Anacostia Community Museum, which is a focal point of the Smithsonian as well, which is located in Anacostia Southeast Washington, DC. We think of Zora Martin Felton, who served as the founder of the education department at the Anacostia Museum who mentored many African Americans who came through the Anacostia Museum with hopes to become public historians and practitioners in the museum field. And at one point served as the executive director of the Anacostia Museum. We think of Janine Smith Clark who's one of the African American citizen members of the regions board. And we think of Bernice Johnson Reagan who founded the Smithsonian African American Associates Program here at the National Museum of American History. We also consider Spencer Crew who was the first African American director of the National Museum of American History. And Claudine Brown who was the under secretary for education at the Smithsonian. So for all of the labor that was put into those quarries in Seneca, in Montgomery County, Maryland, and the backbreaking work and the foundation that enslaved African Americans laid for the Smithsonian, we continue to build upon their work. We continue to try to find ways to bring African American voices and other voices to the table to show and take pride in the contributions of African Americans to the Smithsonian. One of the cornerstones includes the journey of Lonnie Bunch. Lonnie Bunch, who started at the Smithsonian at the National Air And Space Museum, and his tenure carried him to the National Museum of American History. Ultimately he became the founding director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture. And of course, we are still proud today to say that he is the first African American secretary of the Smithsonian. He is a touchstone to future generations and to all of us who look at him to know that even though we come from this history, look at how far we've come and we still have more work to do. So, as I mentioned, when you think of an older building and you look at the history of the building and you look at the foundation of the building and you look at how you can improve that building, you also think of the additions to the building to add value. And so here we have the Smithsonian castle, the Smithsonian building known as the castle and the additions to the Smithsonian itself include the National Museum of the American Indian, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Women's History Museum and the National Museum of the American Latino. And all of these museums are very important as we tell the story of American history through the diversity of lenses. And still today the National Museum of American History is equally important. And at the end of the day, when we look at where we are in 2022, and we look at this image of then founding director, Lonnie Bunch amongst the folks who laid the foundation and helped build the national museum of African American history and culture. We have a better understanding and appreciation for those who build the foundation for the Smithsonian Institution, including the original bequeath state of James Smithson and the work of the quarry workers, the black laborers who helped to mine the red stone that we see that built the Smithsonian castle itself, the structure that we see today. And so I end my presentation with this quote from secretary Lonnie Bunch, who said, "There is nothing more powerful than a people than a nation steeped in its history. And there is nothing more noble than honoring our ancestors and their struggles by remembering." This is a quote from then founding director, Lonnie Bunch, as he addressed the United Nations. And it's a very important global message. And so it's important for us to always look at our foundation where we came from and where we have yet to go and even consider what we have accomplished. So thank you so very much, it's been a pleasure to do this presentation with you today. (audience applauding)

     

    -- I'm gonna let folks take their seats and suggest that maybe we could bring up the houselights because I'd love to take questions from you all for these folks before we wrap up the evening, we have just a few minutes, but the microphones are here up front. Yes, sir. Can we invite you to the microphone here, sir? Yes. Thank you.

     

    -- [Member 1] I thought the names for, you had the names of the American Latino and the National Museum of American Indian, and I've also suggested why they suggested were inclusive names called the National Museum of Hispanic History and Culture and American National Museum American Indian, the National Museum of Indigenous American History and Culture, because obviously from Indians are primarily from India. Number one, and number two, we call it Latino. That's half of Hispanics 'cause that's the male Hispanics. So I was wondering, what's more inclusive to use the word indigenous instead of Indian and Hispanic instead of Latino, thanks.

     

    -- Thank you.

     

    -- Thank you. I appreciate the comment. And I know having worked on the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, there was even a discussion even before I arrived at the museum about whether to call it the National Museum of African American History and Culture, whether to call it the National Museum of Black History. And so it's very important to have these various perspectives to discuss what is the right name for these institutions. So I appreciate your comment and insight, and we have the National Museum of the American Latino coming forward, which is going to, I know they're going to get started on the plans and constructing that. And I know that they'll probably be doing listening sessions and more as well as well as for the National Museum of Women's History. So thank you very much for that. We appreciate your comments.

     

    -- [Member 2] Hi, thank you all so much. I wanted to know if you could comment on any existing memorialization of enslaved or free black labor in building the capital city or any discussion about perhaps a National Memorial in honor near the mall or any such discussions that might be underway at the Smithsonian or among the institutions that you all represent.

     

    -- I can tell you what's in the capital itself, when the Capital Visitor Center was built, there is inside the emancipation hall, which is the grand hall where you come in to line up and get your tickets for tours. Did I just lose my, there's a plaster cast of the statue of freedom that stands on top of the dome is there. And also there is the story of Philip Reed and his role, including you can see copies of the documents that show how he was paid. And that first his enslaver was paid and then he was paid himself. So that's one piece. And then the second piece is that plaque that literally took an act of Congress in 2012 to indicate that as you come in that there's a, it's a piece of sandstone that acknowledges that there were a significant number of enslaved people who built the capital. So those two things are included in the capital building itself.

     

    -- If I could add what's gone on at Georgetown, although we have a lot of work still to do in memorializing some of our history and different spaces on campus that are connected to it. One of the things that came out of the working group on slavery memory and reconciliation in 2015, 2016 at Georgetown was a process of renaming. We had two buildings on campus that were named after the chief architects of the 1838 sale of the Maryland Jesuit slave community, Thomas Melady and William McSherry. Those buildings were renamed. So one of them is now named Isaac Hawkins hall. Isaac Hawkins was one of the people owned and sold by the Maryland Jesuit slave community. His is the first name on the articles of agreement, the contract for the sale in 1838, he was the patriarch of a large family owned by the Jesuits. And the McSherry Hall was renamed Anne Marie Becraft Hall. Anne Marie Becraft was a pioneering free African American woman who started a school for black girls, just outside the gates of Georgetown in the early 19th century, and then joined the old late sisters of Providence and became a nun. So that's just the beginning, but the process of renaming buildings on campus has been a way for us to remember this history in a new way.

     

    -- For the Smithsonian we formed a committee and we are looking into doing more research regarding the history of the enslaved laborers, who quarried or mined the sandstone that you see that is part of the structure of the Smithsonian castle itself. But one of the other things that we're very interested in doing is connecting with the descendants. And so that is another effort that is on our list of things to do. We are in the process of planning all of that now. And ultimately we will also come out with a report regarding the work that is going into and the outcome of our research that's going into finding out more information about those who labor to help bring this institution into being. And with that said, in terms of memorializing the people who contributed to the development of the Smithsonian, we've considered many different things, including a plaque inside of the Smithsonian castle, acknowledging those folks who contributed to the development of the Smithsonian itself. But again, one of the issues we've had is identifying them by name. And so we're very interested in doing that and extremely interested in talking with the descendants because the descendants add a layer to the understanding of the lived experiences of the men and possibly women who help to mine the sandstone that you see that is part of the structure of the Smithsonian castle. And when I say that layered, I mean, again, enslaved black people are not just their work. So to find out the stories that were handed down, the stories about community, even after slavery ended, what were the values of those people? What were things that meant so much to them that we can have a better understanding about their lives beyond just the labor.

     

    -- Yeah. For, for the White House Historical Association, this wasn't as much about memorialization, but also public education. And last year we worked with the National Park Service to develop three waysides in the park. One of which tells the story of the use of free enslaved African American labor to build the white house. And, we were as surprised as anyone that there wasn't anything in Lafayette Park that told the story because that was really the main construction site for building the white house. And so memorialize and being able to acknowledge the contribution, but also work with the National Park Service to have something that, as you've seen I'm sure before many, many tourists cross through Lafayette park. And so we're glad that people now can fully understand the history of the park and the people who live there, work there and, and shape the history of that space.

     

    -- Wonderful. With that I think I'm gonna turn to Dr. Eduardo Diaz.

     

    -- I am Eduardo Diaz, I'm the interim director of the National Museum of the American Latino. And I would've like to have answered the first question, but I think Mary did a great job. Thank you, Mary for handling that. I'm really very pleased to be here. I'm sitting in or standing in for Anthea Hartig who had a delayed flight. And so that is I'm happy to be here and to close this program, which has been wonderful and wonder if we could have another round of applause for our panelists and for our great moderator. (audience applauding) I'm fairly fresh off of a program that we did last September, that Mary was also involved with when we looked at a program called the other slavery, which was an exploration of the enslavement of native peoples, which some would call the charter generation of racialized slavery in the United States. I hope that, and we focused actually on the Spanish empire and their systems of enslavement, which is very interesting. And I'm hoping that the National Museum of the American Indian which is one of our partners along with Mary and The National Museum of African American History and Culture will take up the subject because we know that the Spaniards were not the only ones who were practicing massive slavery systems and what is now the United States. The French and the British of course were very active here as well. I really want to applaud the National Museum of American History for what it's doing in this area of restorative history. And I know that it's happening. We have a terrific leadership, not only in Anthea, but Benjamin who's here as head of the curatorial affairs here at the museum and his team are doing a wonderful job. And we ourselves are opening up a gallery on September the 18th, September, in June the 18th here at the museum on the first floor of the east wing called the Molina family Latino gallery, which will serve very similarly to what the gallery that opened not seven years before. Yeah, seven years before the opening of the National Museum of African American History Culture, you may know started as a gallery here in this very museum as well on the second floor, we're sort of following suit. It is a good way to establish the presence of the museum and to deal with a number of issues that we're dealt with here. Because as we know, nearly of Latinos were African descended. And so we are also intertwined in this history, in this very diverse history. So anyway I hope that you'll come back. We do deal with the issue of enslavement, obviously both native slavery and the enslavement of native peoples, as well as the enslavement of Africans as well, because that's part of who we are. So I welcome you at that point. We want to recognize at this museum the legacies of slavery and colonialism, and I think this 175th anniversary of this Smithsonian is an excellent time to hopefully, what's the word, unpack it, and really dig deep. So again, I want to thank the panelists for their wonderful explorations. It was a great education for me personally. I want to also, do we have the gifts here? I don't know, we're supposed to give you guys a book. Where are they? Okay well, you'll get them later, but anyway, I was hoping I was gonna be able to do that, but anyway, it's actually called "A Guide to Smithsonian Architecture" second edition by Heather Ewing and Amy Ballard. It is autographed by the one and only Lonnie Bunch, our secretary. So we will give those to you soon and with our thanks. And again, thank you for being here and for your wonderful presentation and thank you all for being here as well. This brings an end to our program thank you. (audience applauding)

     

    An esteemed panel of scholars explores the use of enslaved and Free Black labor in building some of Washington’s most iconic buildings: the United States Capitol, the White House, Georgetown University, and the Castle itself. The speakers identify potential paths to memorialization, atonement, and reconciliation their work. 

    The panelists are: 

    • Dr. Martha S. Jones, Moderator, Society of Black Alumni Presidential Professor and Professor of History, Johns Hopkins University, 
    • Dr. Adam Rothman, Professor, Georgetown University 
    • Mary N. Elliott, Curator, National Museum of African American History and Culture 
    • The Honorable Jane Campbell, President/CEO, U.S. Capitol Historical Society 
    • Dr. Felicia Bell, Senior Adviser, National Museum of American History, and 
    • Dr. Matthew Costello, Senior Historian, David M. Rubenstein National Center for White House History