Mid-South well represented in newest Smithsonian museum - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Mid-South well represented in newest Smithsonian museum

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National Museum of African American History and Culture (Source: WMC Action News 5)) National Museum of African American History and Culture (Source: WMC Action News 5))
MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) -

More than 100,000 people are already members of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. and the doors haven't even opened yet. 

It's the highest membership of any Smithsonian museum in such a short period of time, and WMC Action News 5 got an exclusive sneak peek at the Mid-South artifacts inside the museum's four walls.

Mobile users: Click here to see inside the museum.

Thirteen years in the making, the museum is cradled in the heart of the nation's capital at the National Mall. 

"The goal of the museum is to make America better," museum director Lonnie Bunch, III said.

Displaying nearly 4,000 artifacts in a five-story building, the Mid-South is featured prominently in all three galleries: History, Community, and Culture. 

"I am just in awe," said Tracey Tymas, a niece of Memphis photographer Ernest Withers who lives in Washington, D.C. Her uncle's artifacts are inside the museum.

An "I Am a Man" photo by Withers shows sanitation workers pleading to be treated human. 

Withers' niece viewed another image in the Mapping Black Photo Studios exhibit where her uncle snapped of a photo of a young, African American woman smiling with a voter registration card in the 1960s. 

Tymas said the museum, overall, is breathtaking.

"I'm particularly in awe, because my uncle's artifacts are here," Tymas said.

The Smithsonian purchased 32 images from the Withers collection and the money from that purchase allowed the Withers to open a museum on Beale Street in Memphis as Withers puts Memphis on the map in Washington, D.C.

"It's a great moment for all communities, all backgrounds," Tymas said.

Starting below ground, the museum winds through time, from the Middle Passage to the slave trade, and when the concourse rises above ground, the story of change begins with the civil rights struggle in Memphis. 

Museum-goers learn of the assassination of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, after his demand for better conditions for Memphis sanitation workers.

"When we speak of Black Lives Matter, it's important to remember that the original Black Lives Matter movement was the civil rights movement," the museum's deputy director Kinshasha Holman Conwill said.

The museum doesn't just show the struggles of the African American community, it also highlights the triumphs, from twins beaming at Memphis' WDIA radio station to Singer Otis Reddings' contract signed in Memphis. 

B.B. King can be seen and heard on a wall projector singing "The Thrill is Gone" in the gallery celebrating black music.

In the Mississippi Delta Blues section, you'll find a B.B. King display and a W.C. Handy book. 

In the African Americans & the Music Industry Exhibit, you learn Stax Records began as an experiment in integration and you'll find a photo of David Porter and Sam Moore in the studio. 

"In that fertile, fertile ground and in a ground that's contested, a ground where African Americans were also brutalized, out of that grew some of the greatest music human kind has ever known," Holman Conwill said.

Memphis' own COGIC bishop, the late G.E. Patterson, is one of several religious leaders profiled in the Museum.

COGIC spokesperson Deidre Malone said Patterson's widow, Louise, donated his cross and collar. She said the way the Smithsonian looks back at African American history shows us all what America could be.  

"Just to be able to come and see about religion, about education, about the struggle during the civil rights movement. To see what it was like to be a slave and come into this country, but then to move from slavery to freedom, all of that is encapsulated in this museum," Malone said.

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