The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) has released its second online exhibition, “Making a Way Out of No Way,” on its new Searchable Museum website at searchablemuseum.com. “Making a Way Out of No Way” is the latest inaugural museum exhibition to be digitized and conceptualized for online audiences. For the first time, visitors to the Searchable Museum website can experience the exhibition online. The exhibition, which is a part of the museum’s Community Galleries, examines the various ways African Americans have navigated and resisted racism and discrimination while seeking the freedom to determine their own lives and serve their communities. It explores six main themes: An Enterprising Spirit, Organizing for Success, A Tradition of Activism, Foundations of Faith, Power of the Press and The Value of Education.
“In this exhibition, we highlight strategies that African Americans used to craft possibilities in a world that denied them opportunities—to ‘make a way out of no way,’” said NMAAHC curator Kathleen Kendrick. “In re-curating this exhibition for the Searchable Museum, we were able to preserve the fundamental thematic framework of ‘Making a Way Out of No Way,’ while expanding on content presented in the museum and also including entirely new stories only available through the online experience.”
Focusing primarily on stories from the late 1800s through the 20th century, the online exhibit features images and historical artifacts that illuminate African Americans as individuals, families, communities and organized groups overcoming obstacles. The exhibit reveals their perseverance, resourcefulness and resilience. African Americans created their own institutions and organizations that strengthened their communities and addressed issues for social change. These stories convey their experience and how they have sustained and guided African American communities throughout American history.
Whereas the first Searchable Museum exhibition, “Slavery and Freedom” follows a broad chronological narrative, “Making a Way Out of No Way” is thematic. Users can personalize their journey by exploring the six themes in any order they choose. Expanding on the historical stories presented in the museum, the online exhibition also draws connections to contemporary events and topics. For the first time, users will be able to explore newly developed and special content detailing connections between stories, related resources embedded in each theme and videos featured in the museum online:
· The Value of Education: Explore more about Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) as educational pillars in the community. Users can learn about HBCUs and their broader impact on social activism. A new interactive map shares the locations and founding dates of HBCUs in the U.S.
· An Enterprising Spirit: Examine how Black entrepreneurship and Black-owned businesses created opportunities for financial success and wealth that assist Black neighborhoods. Users can interact with a 3D image of an egg carton from Muslim Farms and view a video excerpt from the film The Nation of Common Sense.
· Foundations of Faith: This theme highlights the religious diversity within African American communities. The section “African Americans and Islam” examines the influence of Islam and details the Islamic faith’s appeal to African Americans. Users can examine similarities between Islam and Christianity, Islamic rituals, the Nation of Islam, the Islamic faith’s beginnings in the Black community and statistics on current Muslims.
· Organizing for Success: For centuries, African Americans have formed associations for mutual benefit and advancement. This section includes a story about the Prince Hall Masons, the oldest African American Masonic organization, which was chartered in Boston in 1784. A special interactive feature allows users to closely examine a certificate issued to Nero Powers, who was raised to the third degree as a Master Mason in 1826. Users can discover more about the document’s history and symbolism.
· The Power of the Press: The section “Black Newspapers: Issues for the Times” explores how Black newspapers fostered a sense of community and shared interest among African Americans across the country. It looks at how African Americans sought to inform their communities through social activism and continued to adapt through changing media. The new 3D interactive of the paper cutter from The Baltimore Afro-American, a weekly newspaper founded in 1892, features an oral history with Jake Oliver, former AFRO publisher and CEO.
· A Tradition of Activism: This section examines how African Americans have acted to improve their lives and challenge the nation to live up to its democratic ideals. One of the Black social justice movements, the civil rights movement, is chronologically explored through the museum’s interactive timeline: The Civil Rights Struggle 1900–Present. This timeline explores 20th-century milestones, watershed events and the work of numerous organizations, leading organizers, legislators, educators and protestors that ushered in civil rights reform.
The website also features new stories in its “Lesser-Known Stories” section, which presents stories of people, places and events of historical significance that are not often told.
The Searchable Museum is made possible through the generous support of Bloomberg Philanthropies. The public can view the museum’s latest exhibition “Making a Way Out of No Way” on the Searchable Museum platform. The website is free and does not require users to register or sign-up.