History Museums and Tours are Getting Better at Honest Representations of the American Black Experience
(Nonprofit Quarterly) Last month, NPQ reported on the opening of the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. In September 2016, we reported on the long-awaited opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). By design, these new cultural sites bear unflinching witness to some (though certainly not all) of the most disturbing realities of American history—slavery, lynchings, segregation, and many other deep injustices affecting African Americans. As more visitors experience these new places, other history museums and cultural tours also are making strides in sharing authentic narratives.
Writing for Slate, Ashton Lattimore cites “a growing wave of historical attractions aiming to look squarely at American history,” and comments on what this means to Black tourists, who may no longer have to endure tour guides referring to “slaves” as “servants” in order to avoid offending some tour group members (while of course offending others instead). She describes how she and her husband have experienced heritage tours in the past:
Through years of tours of historic colonial sites, antebellum-era plantation houses, and more, we’ve been that black couple in the background raising our eyebrows and keeping a running commentary of sotto voce corrective facts and cynical asides. Of course, that’s when we have the mental energy to visit these kinds of attractions in the first place. More often, we’re just not up for the whitewashing and the unchallenged Founding Fathers boosterism that pervades so many American history sites.
Lattimore notes that for Black tourists, “who contribute more than $48 billion annually to the economy,” it can be exhausting to have a travel experience that you know is not authentic; it also can be uncomfortable to speak up and challenge a tour guide who is misrepresenting the truth, and equally uncomfortable not to speak up and set the record straight. But in recent years, she says, the trend is toward more balanced and honest narratives, however difficult the authentic stories may be for visitors.
Other articles of relevance are invited for inclusion in this thread.