Lonnie Bunch says the nooses found at the Smithsonian recently show why black people cannot get over the past

Historians in the News
tags: racism, National Museum of African American History and Culture, NMAAHC



Lonnie G. Bunch III, a historian, author, curator and educator, is the founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

So, what does it mean to have found three nooses on Smithsonian grounds in 2017? A noose inside a Missouri high school? A noose on the campus of Duke University? Another at American University?

As a historian, who also happens to be old enough to remember “Whites Only” signs on motels and restaurants that trumpeted the power of laws enforcing segregation, I posit that it means we must lay to rest any notion that racism is not still the great divide.

As someone who has experienced the humiliating sting of racial epithets and the pain of a policeman’s blow — simply because I was black and in a neighborhood not my own — I would argue that it answers a naïve and dangerous question that I hear too often: Why can’t African-Americans get over past discrimination?

The answer is that discrimination is not confined to the past. Nor is the African-American commitment to American ideals in the face of discrimination and hate.

The exhibitions inside the museum combine to form a narrative of a people who refused to be broken by hatred and who have always found ways to prod America to be truer to the ideals of its founders.

In the process of curating these experiences, I have acquired, examined and interpreted objects that stir feelings of intense pain. Anger and sadness are always parts of this work, but I never let them dominate it. Instead, I use them to help me connect with the people who have suffered and continue to suffer immeasurable pain and injustice, while clinging to their humanity and their vision of a better country.

I see the nooses in the same way. They are living history. Viewed through this lens, they are no less a part of the story the museum tells than the Klan robes, the slave shackles small enough to fit a child, the stretch of rope used to lynch a Maryland man in 1931 or the coffin used to bury the brutally murdered Emmett Till. ...





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