Museum Invites Participation in Special Photo Display To Commemorate Opening of African American History and Culture Museum

Public Can Vote for Favorite Snapshots of African American Communities

To mark the opening of the Smithsonian’s newest museum, the National Museum of American History is asking the public to help select images from its Archives Center photography collections that reflect the diversity of the African American experience. Twenty-five photos of various sizes will be mounted in a display in the Lower Level gallery to coincide with the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture this fall. The public can select six of the 25 photos by voting for their favorites beginning May 11.

The selected photos will be on display in “Celebrating Our Memories, Celebrating Our Lives: Snapshots of African American Communities,” Sept. 9–Dec. 27.

For the public voting, staff have chosen photographs from two of the museum’s Archives Center collections that depict special occasions and everyday life in African American communities: the Scurlock Studio Collection and the Fournet Drug Store Collection.

A total of 12 photographs have been put into six categories: anniversaries, birthdays, weddings, coming-of-age events, religious ceremonies and graduations. Each category has two images with three pairs to be posted to the museum’s blog May 11. Three additional pairs will be posted May 12. Museum curators and educators have put together a persuasive argument as to why each photo should be selected, pointing out the images’ interesting material-culture elements, opportunities for interpretation and context, and the broader significance of the photograph. To read each story and vote, the public can visit Voting closes May 27 at midnight EDT.

Little is known about each photo, and in some cases, the museum only has the name of the photographer. For example, who is in the 1949 procession taken at the Bachelor Benedict Club in Washington, D.C.? What happened to the Deane baby who was christened in March 1949, also in Washington, D.C.? He or she would be 67 years old today. Who left an image of a bridal party with hand-tinted, bubble-gum colored dresses at Fournet Drug Store?  

Voters will also have the opportunity to explain their choice through the comment section. Museum curators are interested not only in learning if anyone knows who is depicted in the photographs or where they were taken, but also if the photos bring to mind any memories or particular experiences. The comments and recommendations may be used in the development of the display at the National Museum of American History.

The Scurlock Studio Collection includes the work of Addison Scurlock and his sons, Robert and George, who documented not only graduations and weddings but also significant events that affected Washington, D.C., from sporting events to civil protests, for 90 years. The family-owned Fournet Drug Store in St. Martinville, La., was a multigeneration business with an African American clientele that closed in 1984. The collection includes photos from the 1940s through the 1970s, mostly black and white and some hand colored, that were never retrieved by customers.

Opening Sept. 24, the National Museum of African American History and Culture will be a place where all Americans can learn about the richness and diversity of the African American experience, what it means to their lives and how it helped shape this nation. The museum will be a place that transcends the boundaries of race and culture that divide and becomes a lens into a story that unites. The “Through the African American Lens” exhibition is currently on view in the NMAAHC gallery, which is currently located on the second floor of the National Museum of American History.

Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History explores the infinite richness and complexity of American history. The museum helps people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future. For more information, visit The museum is located at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W., and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free.

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Melinda Machado             
(202) 633-3129