University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The biggest challenge in opening up a national museum about African American history? How to talk about slavery

The biggest challenge in opening up a national museum about African American history? How to talk about slavery

After he was named director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture 11 years ago — before planning had begun for its 400,000-square foot bronze-colored building on the National Mall, when it still had to raise more than half its $540 million price tag, when it had not yet a single one of its 37,000 artifacts — director Lonnie G. Bunch III struggled with questions about the monumental endeavor.

How much did Americans want to confront slavery?

Should the museum be a home for African Americans on America’s “front lawn” — once surrounded by slave...

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