Smithsonian’s Black Museum highlights Gary’s history

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Button from the historic 1972 Black Political Convention held in Gary, Indiana.

By Wayne A. Young, Port of Harlem magazine

The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, D.C. remains extremely popular even after opening more than two years ago. More than 2.5 million people have visited the museum on the National Mall since its opening in September 2016.

Among the more than 37,000 artifacts on the building’s eight levels are several historic objects directly related to Gary. The items are on Concourse One, which highlights achievements in politics and popular culture, and Level Four, which highlights accomplishments in entertainment.

The museum does not label or even dub a “Gary Section,” but the “A Changing America – 1968 and Beyond” exhibition on Concourse One devotes a full side of a kiosk to the “1972 National Black Political Convention, Gary, Indiana,” including a picture of West Side High’s gymnasium, where the monumental gathering convened, and former Gary mayor Richard Hatcher.

Without having to move, you will spot a mural of the Jackson Five performing, and a poster of Fred Williamson in a “Hammer” film promotion.  To left of the exhibits, is a large mural of Hatcher and Revered Jesse Jackson protesting for “Jobs Not Bombs” and in an the nearby alcove is another picture of Hatcher in the “Winning City Hall” section.

On Level 4, there are several tributes to Gary’s gifts to the universe of music. From the passenger side of Chuck Berry’s flaming Red Cadillac El Dorado, look for the names of Gary natives Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, The Jackson Five, Deniece Williams, The Spaniels on the black and white billboard. Standing in front of the car’s silver grills is a Jackson 5 performance costume once worn by Jermaine Jackson and a nod to Janet Jackson’s third album “Control.” An additional performance custom worn by Michael Jackson and a nod to the Jackson Five’s TV and music videos are along the wall behind an encased gown once worn by Whitney Houston.

The Museum is committed to providing inclusive experiences and offer many services including manual wheelchairs, standard and bariatric sized.  Concourse Three is accessible only by elevator is below ground. Levels one through four are above ground and directly accessible by elevator and escalator. To visit Concourse Two and One, be prepared for a 1.5 mile, six ramp hike as you maze through the exhibits back to the Concourse Level. While on the Concourse Level, do not miss the soothing Contemplative Court and its magnificent skylight waterfall.

Like all Smithsonian Museums, entry into the museum is free. Unlike most other Smithsonian Museums, timed entry tickets are often a must and not easy to come by because of the museum’s extreme popularity. For more information on obtaining advance and same-day timed passes to see the museum’s artifacts, including those paying tribute to the City Built on Sand and Gary natives, visit the museum’s Timed Entry Passes information (https://- nmaahc. si.edu/visit/passes).

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