Smithsonian€s Anacostia Community Museum Celebrates 42nd Anniversary

Shantella Y. Sherman | 9/16/2009, 2:21 p.m.

Danicka Walters, 23, had no interest in museums or African American culture four years ago when an aunt took her to the Smithsonian€s Anacostia Community Museum in Southeast. Walters said she envisioned a boring day of looking at ancient relics with no clear connection to her life or her future. But, what Walters found in the museum buried among the hills and valleys of Fort Place, was a new perspective.

€I watched my aunt cry while walking through a fake sharecropper€s house and examining the birthing kit of a woman who delivered babies of poor, Black women in the South. The exhibit was living and breathing. I could touch it and try to wrap my mind around what it was like in the 1950s to have to have a baby on the dirt floor. It was amazing,€ Walters said.

Connecting the living past to the cultural memories of African Americans has been the mandate of the Anacostia Museum since its inception in 1957. As the first federally funded community museum in the country, SACM proudly celebrated its 42nd anniversary Tue., Sept. 15 with a benefit luncheon at the National Press Club Ballroom in Northwest. The theme for the banquet, Jubilee, was taken from the museum€s exhibit €Jubilee: African American Celebration€ which offers a bold and informative examination of historical and contemporary holidays and traditions in African American culture.

Johnnetta Betsch Cole, director of the Smithsonian€s National Museum of African Art, and the former President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C. and Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga., served as keynote speaker for the event.

Cole said that SACM could best be summed up in the African American linguistic vernacular as €Ours Own€ and as such, its care must be squarely placed in the hands of African Americans.

€This museum began as it did, survives as it does, and must go on to thrive as a testament of our pride. It was born out of the White flight of the 1950s and struggled for resources and respect. And now the museum stands as evidence of the resilience and triumphs of African American people,€ Cole said.

Camilla Akeju, director of Smithsonian€s Anacostia Community Museum said that more than simply being a museum with a traditionally sterile and cold atmosphere, the legacy and feel of the museum is rooted in its ties to the surrounding community.

€We have been more than a cultural anchor for communities East of the River, but also a model for engagement around the world,€ Akeju said.

Wayne Clough, Smithsonian Institution Secretary, said that the same struggles the Anacostia museum faced in its early days continue today, but that with the museum, those living East of the River had a real €jewel.€

€There is a certain importance to being able to ask €What do we preserve of ourselves to document our culture?€ This museum is not afraid to ask that question or to handle the answers because they are active members of the community,€ Clough said.

Washington Post columnist Colbert I. King was awarded the John R. Kinard Leadership in Community Service Award during the event. Kinard was founding director of the Anacostia Community Museum from its inception until his death in 1989. Dorothy I. Height, chair and president emerita of the National Council of Negro Women, was also in attendance as was Bruce Johnson, weekend anchor for WUSA Channel 9, who served as the master of ceremonies.

€Jubilee: African American Celebration€ runs through Sun., Sept. 20. For additional information, visit anacostia.si.edu.