Journey to history: Atlantans to go to Washington for museum opening

Shirene Douglas wants her son to learn more about his African-American heritage — beyond slavery and the civil rights movement.

Not that there aren’t lessons to be learned from those periods, but she also wants him to know about great artists, musicians, groundbreakers in science and math, and the cultural traditions that still live in some parts of the nation.

“He doesn’t learn anything about it in school,” said Douglas, who lives in Woodstock with her husband and 12-year-old son, Kameron. “They really don’t talk about it other than slavery or Martin Luther King Jr. Nothing in depth.”

So, when the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture opens this weekend in Washington, she and Kameron will be there.

They are joining about half a dozen family members from across the nation and scores of other people from metro Atlanta — including the Morehouse College Glee Club; the McIntosh County Shouters, who will perform; and Maynard H. and Wendy Eley Jackson III, who are making a documentary about former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson.

“This is an opportunity to really expand his mind,” said Douglas, who works in human resources for Cobb County government. “I tell him all the time that an education is something that nobody will ever be able to take away from you.”

The museum was important enough to her family that her mother, who lives in Kentucky, decided early on to be a financial donor.

Themuseum, which has been years in the making, may be one of the most comprehensive yet of the African-American experience in United States .

The dedication will be attended by President Barak Obama and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who was instrumental in the museum’s creation.

According to its website, the museum has collected more than 36,000 artifacts, and nearly 100,000 individuals have become charter members.

“The defining experience of African-American life has been the necessity of making a way out of no way, of mustering the nimbleness, ingenuity and perseverance to establish a place in this society,” founding Director Lonnie Bunch wrote in Smithsonian Magazine. “That effort, over the centuries, has shaped this nation’s history so profoundly that, in many ways, African-American history is the quintessential American history.”

Rumal Rackley, the son of iconic musician Gil Scott-Heron, and his mother, Lurma Rackley, will also attend the opening this weekend. Rumal Rackley, as the administrator of his father’s estate, donated several items from his father, who died in 2011. Two are currently used in exhibits, although more may be added later. Those items were a leather jacket and hat.

Those items were staples of his father’s.

“I wanted something donated that was personal,” he said. “I felt that he would be proud to have them on exhibit. To have Gil be part of representing our culture made sense. I have two young daughters who will go to that museum. I felt it was for prosperity. They can always go to that museum and see Gil represented there.”

Rex resident Deborah Whitehead will also attend with family members as sort of a mini-reunion and birthday celebration.

“It’s very important to know your history,” said Whitehead, a retired postal worker. “You can’t move forward if you don’t know where you came from.”


Here’s what you need to know about visiting the museum this weekend

No major artifacts from Martin Luther King Jr. will be at new museum. Here’s whyAtlanta photographer donates to museum

How John Lewis’ perseverance helped produce the Smithsonian’s African-American museum

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