Thirst for history, truth

3/17/2017, 8:57 p.m.

Next week, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture will celebrate the six-month mark since its opening in September.

Already, more than 1 million visitors have passed through the contemporary structure designed by architect Sir David Adjaye. The Tanzania-born son of a Ghanaian diplomat lived in Egypt, Yemen and Lebanon before his family moved to Great Britain when he was 9. He was knighted earlier this year for his vast contributions to the field of architecture.

The building is a perfect showcase for the more than 3,000 objects in the inaugural exhibits that tell the history of African-Americans in this nation for the last 400 years.

The museum has set records of its own, including one that speaks to how its 11 interactive galleries captivate visitors. Museum officials note that on weekends, the average length of time a visitor stays in the museum is unparalleled — at six hours or more. Comparatively, visitors at most museums stay for 75 minutes to two hours.

The huge crowds are a tangible indication of the thirst for knowledge and truth about the history of African-Americans in this country and an understanding of how we, as a nation, have arrived at this point in race relations. It also demonstrates the need we have to see ourselves and our contributions reflected and documented in important and permanent places.

Also in this first six months, the museum’s restaurant, Sweet Home Café, was named as one of 20 semifinalists for the 2017 James Beard Foundation Awards for Best New Restaurant. Its mixture of down-home and refined regional dishes link stories of African-American culture through food.

News of the nomination is a real treat, particularly because museum restaurants rarely receive such an honor.

As a side note, Sweet Home Café is run in part by Thompson Hospitality, an African-American firm owned by Warren M. Thompson, a native of Isle of Wight County, and his siblings Fred Thompson Jr. and Benita Thompson-Byas. Each of the hard-working Thompsons earned undergraduate or master’s degrees from the University of Virginia.

We are proud of the great work done by the museum’s founding director, Lonnie G. Bunch III, and Rex M. Ellis of Williamsburg, the museum’s associate director for curatorial affairs. They have populated the museum with everything that’s good for the soul.

“It has truly become a place of healing, reconciliation and celebration where people can embrace — not only African-American history and culture — but how that layered history has shaped America’s identity,” Dr. Bunch said in announcing the visitation numbers.

Tickets to visit the museum, while free, are going like hotcakes. Already, the advance tickets for June are taken, with most people now eyeing July and beyond.

We encourage our readers to make a trip up the road to enjoy the Smithsonian’s newest gem.