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Andrea Taylor on African American Museum: ‘Unlike anything I’ve ever experienced’

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Andrea Taylor

By Ariel Worthy

The Birmingham Times

Andrea Taylor
Andrea Taylor

Andrea Taylor, president and CEO of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, was in Washington, D.C. last week for the opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC).

She called it a “family reunion.”

“You were going to run into someone you knew,” she said. “People from all over the country, the world really, came to see this museum.”

The museum, which displays the history and culture of African Americans in this country, dates back several centuries to present. It holds more than 37,000 objects and is three levels.

“To see the entire museum you would have to go two days,” she said. “There is so much to see about our culture.”

The museum covers over 600 years of black history and culture -from slavery and its abolition to cultural expression such as the “side eye” and fist bumping.

“It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced,” Taylor said. “As an African American I have never been to a museum whose sole mission is African-Americans.”

Taylor also remembers when ground was broken in 2012 on the museum.

“President Obama invited us to a dinner at the White House after the groundbreaking ceremony and said, ‘I’ll see you guys here again in four years to celebrate the opening,” she recalled. “It was like he knew he would be president again to see this happen. It’s ironic in a way.”

Taylor, who said she has been to hundreds of museums in her lifetime, said she has never seen a museum so well-funded and uses technology and resources in a way that the NMAAHC does.

The artifacts were intriguing because of the extent the museum went to get them.

“These were artifacts in people’s attics and under their beds, and they were able to go into the communities and people’s families were willing to relinquish those items,” Taylor said. “Humankind will now have an opportunity to see these things.”

Being able to actually see the objects that someone used are more impactful than replicas, Taylor said.

The museum was given $270 million by Congress was matched by $273 million in private and corporate donations to build. The highest private donor was Oprah Winfrey, who donated $21 million.

“Sources that one would never have predicted contributed to something of this magnitude,” Taylor said. “It gives me hope.”

Since the opening of the NMAAHC, Taylor said she has received many phone calls asking about the number of people who would now visit the BCRI, and if there would be challenges with fundraising.

“I think it’s going to be an opposite effect,” Taylor said. “Everyone can’t go to the National museum, and even if they can go I think many people will go home, and the curious people will want to research more about what is around them, I think this is going to happen across the country.”

Taylor said she cannot wait to take her five grandchildren, who range from ages 1 -11 years old, to the NMAAHC.

“For them to be able to witness this in 2016, something I never thought I’d see, it’s a wonderful thing,” she said.