The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) this morning kicked off a two day symposium, “1968 and Beyond: A symposium on the Impact of the Black Power Movement on America,” today at the National Portrait Gallery. The event features a number of notable individuals connected to the movement that redefined the status of a generation of Black Americans who sought greater self-determination in the 1960’s.
The day’s activities were kicked off at a morning press conference featuring Dr. Lonnie Bunch, the Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and historian Dr. Peniel Joseph of Brandeis University and the event’s keynote speaker. Both Dr. Bunch and Dr. Joseph spoke to the significance of the Black Power movement in the context of the election of Barack Obama as the nation’s first Black President. Bunch made reference to the significance of a Smithsonian affiliated museum taking on the subject and the mild controversy that resulted internally within the Smithsonian when the decision was made to host the symposium. Still, Bunch noted that the top raises “fundamental debates” about the significance and impact of the movement on not only the Black community but the nation as a whole.
Dr. Joseph noted that a “new scholarship” was emerging in the study of the Black Power movement and that it was bringing to light the complexities of the period, including the unique role of women. He suggested that ‘Black Power” was a broad based movement that spawned the emergence of Black student unions in colleges, and similar efforts in high schools, while galvanizing the activism of Black youth.
Dr. Bunch pointed out that the NMAAHC was working with secondary teachers to facilitate scholarship on the subject and was instituting a series of workshops with teachers to make the content accessible. He also indicated that the museum was aggressively pursuing partnerships to begin building visibility prior to the construction of its permanent building on the National Mall.
The first panel of the day – “People Get Ready: There’s A Change A ‘Comin’: Civil Rights and Black Power: Rediscovering Their Distinctions and Intersections” - featured poet Askia Muhammad Toure, Dr. Charles E. Cobb of Brown University, and poet Amiri Baraka and Yohuru Williams of Fairfield University.
Later today panels will focus on “Nationalism and Pan-Africanism” and “To Be Young, Gifted and Black! The Black Arts, Black Consciousness and the New Black Aesthetic,” with panelists such as poet Sonia Sanchez and activist attorney Kathleen Cleaver.
The symposium continues tomorrow and will conclude with a panel on Black electoral politics featuring political consultant Donna Brazile, political consultant Dr. Ron Walters, and Benjamin Jealous, President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).