The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture presents a new exhibition, “Make Good the Promises: Reconstruction and Its Legacies,” exploring the turbulent Reconstruction era through an African American lens.
The 4,300-square-foot exhibition, which runs through Aug. 21, features more than 175 objects, 300 images, and 14 media programs. It takes place within the museum’s Bank of America Special Exhibitions Gallery and aims to shed light on the “deep divisions and clashing visions about how to rebuild the nation after slavery. It connects that era to today’s efforts to make good on the promises of the Constitution.”
Visitors can take a glimpse into the lives of Black men and women after the end of slavery and during the periods of American history permeated with unlawful incarceration, voter intimidation, lynching, and mass shootings. The exhibit features artifacts from an apron owned by Harriet Tubman to the sweatshirt Trayvon Martin wore the day he was killed, which aims to represent the relevance of the Reconstruction era in modern-day politics and policing, as per USA Today.
“It’s not a story that’s constrained to any one racial group or ethnic group, contained to any one period of time,” Paul Gardullo, one of the museum’s curators, told the news outlet. “It’s a period, it’s a process, and it’s a promise. It’s a promise to make America a more just and more perfect union as we continue to struggle and move forward as a nation.”
From 1865 to 1877, the Reconstruction era was motivated by one of its major initiatives—to lay the foundation for equality and freedom for Black people after the Civil War. However, despite the efforts to reintegrate 4 million newly-freed people into the United States, “racially motivated violence was prevalent, and unfair labor practices created the system of sharecropping.”
The exhibit is presented with an accompanying book, Make Good the Promises: Reclaiming Reconstruction and Its Legacies—“a comprehensive story of Black Americans’ struggle for human rights and dignity and the failure of the nation to fulfill its promises of freedom, citizenship, and justice.” The book’s inclusion in the exhibit strives to change the narrative that has often characterized Black people in a negative light.
Kinshasha Holman Conwill, the museum’s deputy director and co-editor of the book, told USA Today, “When you say something long enough, and in the absence of a counternarrative, it becomes truth to people.”