WASHINGTON (AP) — America’s newest museum brings to life all the pain and tribulations of the black experience and its creators expect many visitors will be shaken by what they see and hear.
Slave shackles sit ominously in a glass case, surrounded by whispering hymns of past pains. Nearby are artifacts from a slave ship which carried black men, women and children to lifetimes of servitude in a land not their own and a whip used to punish the backs of those whom survived the ocean voyage by cruel white masters.
In preparation, the new Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African American History and Culture has been training more than 250 docents to help visitors process their emotions. They’re being taught what to do if someone gets angry, distraught or depressed by the exhibits — to offer tissues to help dry tears, or to direct those who need to collect themselves to the museum’s Contemplative Court.
There, a circular waterfall — symbolizing the water path that many enslaved African-Americans took to freedom — cascades down the center of the room from an oculus, or circular window, which will allow sunlight to diffuse underground onto benches strategically located around the calming waters. Spread throughout the museum also are “recording booths” where visitors inspired by what they’ve seen unburden themselves and share their own stories with the Smithsonian to collect and store for future generations. In addition, it will serve as a catharsis for some.