Museum of African-American History & Culture opens and two major donors were there: Oprah ($21m) & Robert Smith ($20m); we all know Oprah, meet Mr. Smith – Tola Adenle

September 25, 2016



With the opening to the public of the Museum of African-American History and Culture on Saturday, September 24,  behind the scenes work of over a hundred years of hard work raising awareness, raising funds, gathering materials and tons of other important necessities to making a modern museum for a History that dates to hundreds of years, have  finally really reached a glorious completion.

President Obama opened the museum with the ringing of the historic Freedom Bell from the First Baptist Church in Williamsburg, Virginia,a church  which was organized in 1776 by slaves.

Above excerpt from the National Public Radio story of yesterday’s opening. It follows the Post’s story which centers on Robert Smith, Philanthropist and generous billionaire who has contributed to the realization of the century-long work to bring the dream of a Museum of African-Americans’ History & Culture to a park where many America’s Memorials to presidents, Martin Luther King and great Museums like the Smithsonian, Air & Space Museum, et cetera are located. [TOLA.]



 The Washington Post

We have ALL MET – oh, not really – BUT WE ALL KNOW OPRAH – well, sort of!

Off to celebrate ! What a mighty powerful day.

Oprah, the $21 milion-donor, took to Twitter with this pix showing her “mightily” happy with closed ones, including Stedman (at the back) and Gayle King, CBS Morning News Anchor (extreme right). Her generosity through small and huge contributions continue to ensure that she will definitely leave the world a much-better place than she met it![TOLA]


Robert Smith, left, has a quick word with Lonnie G. Bunch III, director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Smith’s donation, Bunch said, “helps us jump full speed ahead as a digital museum.” (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)


In 2013, when the founders of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture were seeking donors, people directed them to one man: Robert F. Smith.

“We kept wondering, ‘Who is this Robert Smith?’ ” said Adrienne Brooks, director of development for the museum. Meeting Smith became a priority, said Lonnie G. Bunch III, the museum’s founding director. “We wanted to meet him. And soon,” Bunch said, laughing.

Soon many more people will know Robert Smith by name as the museum celebrates its grand opening this weekend. The private-equity financier was the museum’s second-biggest private donor, with a $20 million gift. Oprah Winfrey was No. 1, with $21 million.

Smith has built a fortune that’s made him one of the nation’s richest men — worth $2.5 billion, according to Forbes — but until now he has kept his work and philanthropy relatively quiet.

Even the website of his company, Vista Equity Partners, does not have a picture of him. Better, he had thought, that investors and executives know him first by his abilities. If they saw only the caramel skin of an African American, he might lose out on opportunities.

As Vista’s chairman and chief executive, he is in the business of buying, growing and selling off software companies. Vista’s portfolio has 35 companies with $26 billion in assets under management. He is the majority shareholder of Vista’s management company.

When it opens, the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., will be the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African-American life, history and culture.

Beyond Wall Street and Silicon Valley, Smith long enjoyed moving in relative obscurity. That changed last fall when Forbes magazine put him on its cover, with an article for which he declined to be interviewed.

Now in an exclusive interview with The Washington Post, he’s ready to talk about his life’s work and the powerful social force that has pulled him out of the shadows: the racial tension escalating across the nation. Smith said he grew fearful that the very fabric of the country that allowed his parents to earn doctorate degrees and him to build a successful business is vulnerable.

Watching TV news, he saw the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., after the 2014 fatal shooting of an unarmed black youth, Michael Brown, by police. Last year he watched the turmoil following Freddie Gray’s funeral in Baltimore. Across the land, he feared, a sense of opportunity is giving way to rising hopelessness and despair.

His philanthropic efforts go back years. Through the Fund II Foundation, of which he is the founding president, he has supported nonprofit groups that focus on African American culture, human rights, music education and the environment.

It was time to emerge, he thought, and do more. “We have to do something,” he said. “We have to do something for our community.”

Telling its stories, for instance. Through his donation to the museum, visitors will be able to leverage the power of technology to chronicle and share personal narratives — whether they are standing in the building or logged on from home across the world.

Smith says he is often reminded he is still a black man in this country. At least three to seven times a year, he says, he is stopped by police as he drives himself to the airport in Texas. The officers run his tags and check his license. He’s told he was speeding or changed lanes without signaling. The officers send him off, often without a ticket.

“You shouldn’t have to be fearful of your life,” he said. “You should be able to drive to the airport and not be stopped three to seven times a year.”

But Smith never worries about missing his flight. His private plane won’t leave without him.

NPR logo

When peals ring out from a 130-year-old church bell at the Sept. 24 dedication ceremony for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, they will signal the end of a long journey.

The historic “Freedom Bell” usually hangs in Williamsburg, Va., in the tower of the First Baptist Church, which was founded by slaves. It started making its way to Washington, D.C., on Monday, according to The Associated Press, in order to herald this latest historical event.


“The connection between a congregation founded in 1776, the forging of First Baptist Church, the first black president opening the first national African-American museum, all of those dots are being connected,” the Rev. Reginald Davis told WVEC.

But in truth, it took more than a few people, and a century’s worth of starts and stops, to shift the museum from conversation to construction.

President Barack Obama speaks during the dedication ceremony for the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP



The idea of the museum was first proposed in 1915 by black veterans of the Civil War. A year later, Rep. Leonidas C. Dyer, R-Mo., introduced HR 18721, a bill that called for a commission to “secure plans and designs for a monument or memorial to the memory of the negro soldiers and sailors who fought in the wars of our country.”

Three years later, Dyer — who also authored the 1918 Dyer Anti-Lynching bill — upped the ante and drafted a bill to erect an African-American monument in the capital. InBegin with the Past: Building the National Museum of African American History and Culture, author Mabel Wilson writes that Dyer’s 1919 bill “sparked a round of discussions among the various committees overseeing federal land.” There was even talk of building the memorial on the National Mall, but a decision on how to pay for it was put off.

In 1929, things looked hopeful again when Congress passed legislation establishing a commission charged with building an African-American memorial. But once again, no money was allocated for it — it was the Depression — and the project lost momentum.

The museum gained new champions during the civil rights era, but it wasn’t until 1986 that Congress passed a joint resolution supporting private efforts to build it. The efforts inched forward in 1991 when a Smithsonian blue-ribbon commission pushed for creation of the museum, recommending that the iconic, red-brick Arts and Industries Building be its temporary home. But political squabbles over funding and a site location stymied that effort.

The arrival of the new millennium, however, seemed to bring with it new momentum to get the museum built. In 2003, Congress passed the National Museum of African American History and Culture Act, a bill making the museum part of the Smithsonian Institution.

Over the next few years, a board was selected and more than $240 million was raised from donors such as Oprah’s Charitable Foundation, Samuel L. Jackson and his family, Michael Jordan and his family, the LeBron James Family Foundation, the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation, Earvin and Cookie Johnson and family, and Mellody Hobson and George Lucas. The federal government kicked in $270 million.

“They took advantage of having the first African-American president, and of President Obama’s legacy,” Emmett Carson, president and chief executive of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and an authority on African-American giving, told The Washington Post in May.

Enlarge this image

The Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup, which designed the winning concept for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, met with Smithsonian Institution members in April 2009. David Adjaye (third from right) and Phil Freelon (second from right) pulled ideas from cultural icons for their design.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

The other pieces fell into place once the location was decided in 2006: an architecture design team selected in 2009, and finally, in February 2012, a groundbreaking.

“This day has been a long time coming,” Obama said during the ceremony.

The building and collections

Today the 400,000-square-foot museum stands on the National Mall near the Washington Monument. The art of the Yoruba people, with origins in Nigeria and Benin, inspired its tiered facade.

In 2012, NPR’s Melissa Block talked to Phil Freelon, architect of record for the project, who described other influences that led to its design.

“David Adjaye, our lead designer, came up with the idea of trying to link the building form to a cultural icon that was significant. There are other aspects of the design, for instance, the porch, which is, I think, more akin to what you see in America — not only in black culture but across the nation. And so it’s really a blending of cultural icons that we think speak to the African-American culture.”

The majority of the exhibition space is underground. On the bottom level, museumgoers will find themselves in literal and metaphorical darkness: slavery. Then, as they ascend, visitors move through exhibits exploring the Jim Crow era and the civil rights movement, until finally reaching light and joy — above-ground galleries devoted to culture, music, dance, literature.

“The Power of Place,” an exhibition on the third floor, is about “the diversity of African-American history and culture across a wide expanse … thematic, chronological and geographic,” Paul Gardullo, one of the museum’s curators, recently told NPR.

Some of the museum’s more than 35,000 artifacts include slave shackles, a dress Rosa Parks made in the 1950s, Muhammad Ali’s boxing headgear, and a circa 1918 charm featuring one of the founders of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., the first Greek-lettered organization for black women. (Full disclosure: I am a member of this sorority.)

In that 2012 NPR conversation, Freelon noted that the museum’s contents wouldn’t just focus on “well-known names.”


Both from Google Images

Giselle Shapiro of Los Angeles holds her hands in prayer




“These facilities should express the ideals and vision of the everyday person. There were foot soldiers, if you will, of the civil rights movement that need to be commemorated. And often, those stories, because they’re unfamiliar, are really quite interesting. And so our efforts to pull out the interesting stories goes beyond just the marquee names that we all know.”

That method of organizing the vast collection — and the choices made for exhibits — seems to hew closely to a hope the president expressed back in 2012.

“I want [my daughters] to see how ordinary Americans can do extraordinary things,” he said. “I want them to appreciate this museum, not just as a record of tragedy, but as a celebration of life.”



SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2016. 1:55 a.m. [GMT]


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