Black America’s Story, Told Like Never Before

A new museum in Washington shows the personal side of African Americans' suffering, perseverance, and triumphs.

Ambrotype of Frederick Douglass

This portrait of one of the most famous abolitionists, orators, and writers of the 19th century will be on exhibit in the museum. The former slave was the era’s most photographed person. Understanding the power of images to convey dignity and alter how African Americans were seen, he frequently sat for portraits.
All Artifacts from the Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

If not for a chance encounter with a soldier in fatigues at a Mercedes-Benz dealership, just outside Sacramento, California, Gina McVey might never have known that her grandfather had an esteemed role in American history.

While making small talk in the waiting room, McVey mentioned that her grandfather had served in the First World War. The questions that followed were almost reflexive: “What did he do? Where did he serve?” McVey had few answers.

Lawrence Leslie McVey, Sr., was a faintly drawn branch on the family tree. He’d lived on the other side of the country, in New York City, and died when she was just 10. She’d met him only twice. McVey, a risk consultant for Wells Fargo, did know one detail that was family lore: Her paternal grandfather had received a fancy medal from the French government, but she couldn’t recall the name of the honor.

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