Feb 20, 2017
First clear giveaway that I’m a white guy: I didn’t even know there was a National Museum of African American History and Culture in the works until the year it opened—2016. I thought it was and is a great idea, long overdue, but I honestly had never heard a word about it. Once I did, however, I was like a lot of people who thought, “What took us so damn long to get around to it?” And now that I’ve read Judge Robert L. Wilkins’ new book, Long Road to Hard Truth: The 100-Year Mission to Create the National Museum of African American History and Culture, I have a pretty good idea why it took so long and why a lot of well-intended folks like me knew nothing about it before it was literally right in front of our noses.
JUDGE ROBERT L. WILKINS podcast excerpt: "I grew up feeling that I was a little bit less- than my white counterparts. Learning about African American history over the years was, for me, a way to affirm my sense of self and to help improve my self-esteem. But also to appreciate the opportunities that I had, that people had literally fought, bled and died for to get me a good education and have equal opportunities to compete for the best jobs."
Judge Wilkins compresses a century of Black frustration into about 150 politically charged pages of history. I’m curious to find out how he can even discuss it without screaming, but that’s why he’s a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. A Harvard Law grad doesn’t rise to this level without learning how to stay composed and restrained, even in the face of ridiculous obstruction and political nonsense. Judge Wilkins, by the way, served as chairman of the site and building committee of the Presidential Commission that Congress finally established to plan the museum. Incidentally, we will not be discussing current political issues, in case you were wondering.
JUDGE ROBERT L. WILKINS podcast excerpt: "The sense that I have is that President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney felt it was the right thing to do. This had been in the works for decades. They believed this was something that could help the country learn from its mistakes in history. And that it could help unify the country."
• 7:35 Federal judge Robert L. Wilkins talks about the personal reasons that he devote nearly two decades of his life to carry the creation of the National Museum of African American History and Culture to the finish line after starts and stops for the previous 80 years;
• 23:45 Wilkins talks about the Four Musketeers of Congress that formed an unlikely coalition to push museum funding through the House and Senate;
• 29:56 Two of the most surprising champions of the National Museum of African American History and Culture were President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. No kidding.