WASHINGTON —Beginning February 2011, Washington, D.C., will host "America I AM: The African American Imprint," an award-winning touring exhibition conceived and presented by broadcaster Tavis Smiley that celebrates nearly 500 years of African American contributions to the United States. The showing at the National Geographic Museum, launching Feb. 2, 2011, during Black History Month and continuing through May 1, 2011, will be the fifth stop on the exhibition's 10-city, four-year tour.
"America I AM" presents pivotal moments in courage, conviction and creativity that celebrate the undeniable imprint of African Americans on the United States. Through more than 200 rare historic objects, documents, photographs and multimedia, visitors can explore how African Americans have contributed to and shaped America across four core areas: economic, socio-political, cultural and spiritual. The exhibition features important events and people from the beginnings of the nation through the present-day inauguration of the first African American president of the United States.
"America I AM: The African American Imprint encourages all people to connect in a meaningful way with the foundations of democracy, cultural diversity, exploration and free enterprise, which began when the first Africans arrived in Jamestown," said presenter Tavis Smiley. "By telling the stories of the events of the past, we can help the leaders of the future set the stage for active participation in the democratic process for years to come."
"We are pleased to host this exhibition highlighting the contributions of African Americans and furthering a dialogue about our collective experience," said Susan Norton, director of the National Geographic Museum. "We look forward to sharing the stories — some familiar, some surprising — of the influential African Americans featured in the exhibition. Our hope is that visitors leave with a richer understanding of the culture and history of the United States."
America I AM: The African American Imprint is developed in partnership with Tavis Smiley and is organized by Cincinnati Museum Center and Arts and Exhibitions International ( AEI ), a division of AEG Live.
Exhibition organizers worked with some of the most notable scholars in the field to develop America I AM, one of the broadest exhibitions on this subject ever mounted. Among others, advisory panel members include Lawrence J. Pijeaux Jr., president and CEO of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and former president of the Association of African American Museums; Cornel West, professor of religion and African American studies at Princeton University; and Henry Louis Gates Jr., director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and American Research at Harvard University. John Fleming, past president of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, serves as executive producer.
Filling approximately 12,000 square feet and both of the National Geographic Museum's 17th Street galleries, America I AM conveys a journey from struggle to triumph. Visitors can view artifacts ranging from shackles used in the slave trade to abolitionist material and the poetry of Langston Hughes. Visitors can also explore innovative ideas from contemporary African American artists and inventors. An interactive area allows visitors to leave video "imprints" of their own experiences, a collection that continues to grow throughout the tour.
Among the rare artifacts included in the exhibition are "The Door of No Return" from the Cape Coast Castle in Ghana, which enslaved Africans passed through to board ships to the "New World"; the typewriter Alex Haley used to write the groundbreaking book "Roots"; Rosa Parks' December 1955 arrest card; the key to the cell where Martin Luther King Jr. authored his famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail"; Muhammad Ali's "Rumble in the Jungle" training robe; and Frederick Douglass' clothing and a letter signed by President Lincoln that enabled him to travel freely.
America I AM is made possible by Walmart Stores Inc., which serves as its presenting sponsor. The exhibition's educational partner is Northern Trust. Microsoft is the technology partner for the exhibition tour. Local sponsors include the Madison, a Loews Hotel, as the Official Hotel Partner and Amtrak.
"All of us at Walmart are honored to play a role in presenting an exhibit that honors the contributions that African Americans have made to our great nation," said Kimberly Sentovich, vice president and regional general manager, Walmart. "America I Am not only recognizes African American history as American history, but as something that should be remembered throughout the year. We are excited to be able to present this history to our customers, associates and partners in Washington, D.C. area and throughout the East Coast."
"Northern Trust is proud to be the educational partner of this inspiring exhibition portraying some of the many significant contributions African Americans have made to our society," said Northern Trust Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Frederick H. Waddell. "We are deeply committed to promoting cultural understanding and inclusion among our employees, clients and the communities we serve. We hope many people in the Washington, D.C., area and around the world will experience America I AM and its celebration of African American history and culture."