tv Creation of the National Museum of African American History and Culture CSPAN October 16, 2016 1:05pm-2:01pm EDT
what really mattered back then, in fact, if i come back in another life, i think i might be a colonial latin americanist. other comments and questions? we are out of time. what really mattered back then, in fact, if i come back in another life, i think i might be a colonial latin americanist. [applause] thank you. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2016] >> you're watching american history tv all we can every weekend's and three. like us on facebook at c-span history. >> the smithsonian museum of african american culture opens. judge robert luden's discusses his book long road to hard truth. he talked about the early effort create a memorial for african-american civil war soldiers and a nut and bolt into
the movement to create the national museum and described his on an altman and advocating for the needs him -- have according for the museum. the harvard law school hosted this 50 minute event. >> robert l wilkins sits here is a graduate of the harvard law school, have many honors, appointed to the u.s. court of appeals district of columbia 2014. he is a native of indiana with a bs in chemical engineering. judge wilkins served as a law clerk to the united states district court for california. in 1990, he joined the public this -- service district and
later for several years. in 2002, he joined the law firm as a partner handling white-collar defense, intellectual property, and litigation matters. judge wilkins served as the lead plaintiff in wilkins in the state of maryland, a landmark civil rights lawsuit that inspired nationwide executive reform. i have invited him to come and speak to my class after this. he has also played a key role in the establishment of the smithsonian national museum of african american history. his work led to the congressional authorization of the museum and the selection of this location. he was named one of the 40 under 40 most successful young litigators. he was one of the 90 greatest washington lawyers in 2008. he was appointed u.s. district judge to the district of columbia. this is a wonderful record and i'm deeply proud to be able to have him speak to you today in the hope you enjoy it. >> thank you and good afternoon. it is quite an honor to be here and introduced by someone with the scholarship and the reputation and the gravitas of a professional so i thank you for that introduction. i will try to take you down the long road of hard truths in 25
minutes or less. i'm a recovering public defender and trial lawyer so it's hard for me to stand still but now that i'm a court of appeals judge, i have to have a more dignified manner so i will try to stay here at the podium. whether -- the long road to hard truth was inspired by the words of james baldwin who testified before congress in 1968 about a proposal to create either a national museum dedicated to black history and culture or some sort of a national commission to promote the study of black history and culture. he told congress "my history tells the truth about america, it's going to be hard to teach it."
you might wonder how did i get involved in this. i was a practicing lawyer in, why get involved in a museum? it's a complicated answer but i will try to boil it down to a couple things. the immediate interest was sparked by the death of someone who i care deeply about, a gentleman was was a member of my church and we worked together on a mentorship program for teenage boys and he passed away rather suddenly and my wife and i went to visit with the family. there were a lot of church members there and they were telling these wonderful stories about growing up during
segregation, deficit patient in the civil rights movement, how it affected them in a dilapidated school while they saw their white counterparts writing and new school buses and going to fancy schools. one person commented how he never seen a new book until he got to college because the black schools only got the nubs that had been used passed down from the white schools as far as the chalk goes and the leftover books. there were a live is really amazing stories they were telling it as my wife and i drove home, i said why don't we have a museum to tell these stories and that is what sparked it for me. it was also sparked by my
experience as a public defender and someone who was a plaintiff in a civil rights lawsuit. i had been stopped along with other family members by the maryland state police and they insisted on searching our car for drugs and it didn't matter that i explained i was an attorney and a public defender and i named the u.s. supreme court case that the officer was violating. [laughter] none of that mattered. he said they had a lot of problems with rental cars and
drugs and he needed to search our car and we were going to have to wait for a drug sniffing dog to be brought to the scene. we learned that the officer was just following orders. he had gotten the directive that went to all the troopers and his barracks a couple weeks before his stop that directed them to stop blacks in rental cars coming through that area because they were trafficking in crack cocaine.
but he had his orders in his orders were targeting african-americans in rental cars. we settled the lawsuit and part of the settlement required the police gather data and reporting to us as to who they were stopping and searching and what they were finding. they were searching for black motorists for everyone white motorist.
the lawsuit ultimately went on for 15 years. it was in the midst of that lawsuit and primarily recognizing clients in seeing the pain and suffering and under education of the broken families in the despair of the criminal justice system that made me want to be a part of something positive, something affirming, something that could perhaps bring the country together. it was a victory parade for the union troops after the civil war . president lincoln had been assassinated, president johnson was at the helm. the confederacy have been defeated it the country decided it was fitting and proper to honor the union troops who had saved the republic.
it was front-page news. every newspaper in the country. any superlative you can imagine was used to describe it. the name of it was the only cream review of the armies. there was not a single african-american combat soldier that took part in that review. they ultimately stage their own review for black troops in harrisburg, pennsylvania. president johnson later by the district of columbia to be reviewed by him and he addressed them afterwards. the black community was thrilled about this. finally some recognition. but the occasion was bittersweet because the message he delivered to these black soldiers was that you need to focus on living and upright life and working in being industrious and attending to your families and not living the life of -- and once you have proven your worth, then maybe you can become
citizens but don't think just because you fought in this war in the help of the union when that you have earned the rights of citizenship now. the african-american community was on some form of citizenship preparation. i think that is symbolic from the greener view itself. it was really a rebuke because a lot of the black soldiers had fought up thinking they were fighting for their freedom and their right to full citizenship. that is what frederick douglass and others had said. the grand army of the republic, which is the major union army veterans group stages a reenactment of the grand reviewing 1915 in washington. about 20,000 of them make it to washington, d.c. to participate in this reenactment of the grand review.
this time, the black soldiers are allowed to participate. jim crow was the law of the land and all of the events and social activities or for the white veterans and not the black veterans. they found people to drive them around and organize activities for these black veterans. again, the african-american community felt this was bittersweet because we could marja but only as second-class citizens. the committee which was headed the committee which was headed by a lawyer named ferdinand lee,
memorial association whose goal was to build a permanent memorial in washington to honor the contributions of black soldiers and sailors in every war from the revolutionary war up to that time. in the midst of that organizing effort, the u.s. enters world war i and once again, black soldiers participate and serve their country. the movement to honor black soldiers is even stronger but it grows because they decide there is an honor here in the nation's capital for all i can american achievement not just in participation with the military but all areas of life.
we need to build a memorial building to negro achievement and contribution to america. they had an african-american architect name of edward williams. they got legislation to create this building. there was a lot of opposition, especially from southern legislators. ultimately, the only way they were able to get something passed on march 4, 1929 was for the bill to be stripped of any funding so the original bill provided that organization would get funding because they would need to raise another $500,000
the timing was not so great because march 4 of 1929 was just a few months before october 1929 when the stock market crashes so it's not a good time to be embarking on a private fundraising effort. the commission that congress created to try to build this memorial building went to see president herbert hoover and asked for federal funds. the meeting didn't go well. he refused even to take a photograph with this prominent group of african-americans who were appointed to this presidential commission to create this memorial building. his policy -- every delegation of boy scouts or western union employees came in they were white, he took photographs but not black.
they couldn't even get a picture with the president. the effort eventually dies off and is forgotten. the next major movement toward this comes in the mid-1960's concurrent with the black studies movement and black arts movement. there is legislation introduced in 1965. there are hearings in 1968 and this hearing came just a few weeks after the commission report. it had been deemed by president lyndon johnson to respond to the rights it had take a place all over the u.s. in 1967 in the report, they had famously said
the nation was basically being cleaved into and that there were two nations, one black and one white and they were separate and unequal. you had this report and the specter of all of these problems in the country and the rioting and you have this variety of people come and say we should do this, this could be something that can lead to better understanding, that could lead to unity and young african-americans boys and grows in men and women to feel like a sense of being a part of the country and like they are being respected and understood and
everyone from james baldwin to jackie robinson had taken over his organization. all of them were in favor of doing this. but it goes nowhere. the next movement, phase of the movement, comes in the mid-1980's and this time, the goal of the movement is squarely to create a national museum that will be in the national mall and washington, d.c. mickey leland, a congressman from texas, and congressman john lewis, just elected from georgia, lead that effort. congressman langland was killed in a plane crash in africa while he was visiting some relief and refugees that he was working
with. congressman lewis picked up the mantle and became the leader of the effort and eventually continued fighting on for 15 years later until legislation ultimately got passed in 2003. interestingly, the smithsonian was indifferent to this venture in the mid-1980's. they felt like perhaps a national museum etiquette to african-american history was not needed. -- they didn't feel like perhaps a national museum dedicated to african-american history was needed. they were being pressured by congress to look into this and to consider supporting this and they created a committee to study the issue headed by a lawyer and historian in the same professional. this committee led by miss brown concluded that there should be a national museum and it should be part of the smithsonian and the smithsonian board of regents endorsed that effort and agreed to support the creation of this museum.
things were looking good, people thought this museum could happen and it could happen within a few years. senator paul simon of illinois led the effort in the senate and got legislation passed in 1992. this agreement about where the museum would be located and whether it would get an adequate sized building and a building in a prominent location would cause there to be dissension in the house and congressman gus savage of chicago maneuvered the house rules to kill it in the house so it doesn't pass the house. the next session of congress has been defeated so john lewis is able to get it passed in the house in 1993.
they thought this is great and now we will be able to do this. passed the year before.ides it senator jesse holmes decides it --that he will make it is personal mission to block his museum and north carolina full , and it canrs it never become law. so in 1996 when i became interested in this, the effort organizationsthe and coalitions that had been built had been disbanded. i gathered some people including someone who is in this room standing in the back, professor ron sullivan, together to figure out how we could get this movement restarted, how can we rekindle the fire.
and a group of us which included his wife stephanie robinson and others, other graduates of this law school and other law schools , we got together and we formed a nonprofit trying to figure out how we could do this. initially because the atmosphere in congress did not seem hospitable, we looked to see if there was a way to do this outside of the smithsonian, outside of congress, perhaps in conjunction with the city of washington dc and is a public-private partnership. but congressman john lewis was able to build a bipartisan coalition around 2000, to 2001 support this. senator sam brownback of kansas, a republican, came on board and made it his mission to make sure that this museum would happen.
so did congressman jc watts of oklahoma who was in the house republican leadership, senator max cleveland, lewis's fellow democrat from georgia, came on board, and they were the four musketeers so to speak who led the effort in the house and the senate on both sides of the aisle to get this done, and what was amazing was they were able to get all of the leadership on both, both the republican and democratic party in the senate and house behind it. the chair and ranking members of the important authorizing committees and appropriations committees behind it, so that when they introduced legislation 2001, they had as original sponsors all of these key players, and at that press
conference, which i attended, was amazing. you had everything from the four i have spoken about, lewis, brownback, cleveland and watts, you had rick santorum there from pennsylvania. you had a new senator, hillary rodham clinton there. , you had this assortment, this bipartisan assortment of there, and senator brownback even remarked, you don't see this combination of people together doing anything hardly ever. but they were all there to support this national african-american museum that they thought needed to be built and needed to be built on the national mall. things were going great, but we had another issue with timing just a few months later, september 11, 2001. the attacks to the world trade
center and the pentagon, and that changed the whole legislative focus in congress. things turned towards war, patriot act, new department of homeland security, investigating what went wrong, intelligence failures, etc. and it took the steam out of the this, and we had to kind of go to a plan b, which was to create a presidential commission to further plan and make sure that there would be the fundraising and private support for this museum to get it done. i served on that commission and chaired the site commission. because that was a very controversial issue of where this museum would be located, but we investigated sites and we found sites on the national mall that we for -- thought
where appropriate. and this bipartisan commission unanimously agreed on a report with draft legislation, and we entitled it, the time has come, to symbolize after all these decades of fits and starts and passing things but not getting adequate funding, etc., this museum needed to be built. and congress passed the legislation, passed on a vote of 409-9 in the house and by unanimous consent to the senate. so it had this great bipartisan support. the issue of its site was very controversial. congress couldn't agree on the site, so they punted that issue to the smithsonian board of regents. but in 2006, the board of january regents voted to place mall,seum on the national at the center of the national mall, directly adjacent to the
washington monument at, take -- at 14th and constitutional avenue. years later, i met and spoke to chief justice roberts because -- you may not know this, but one of the duties of the chief justice is that he or she is the chancellor of the smithsonian board of regents. and chief justice roberts, i jokingly said, thank you for granting my motion. because i had written to the smithsonian board of regents, asking them to place this museum on the mall. and he remarked after he had been nominated to become chief justice, the lawyers from the white house told him, there are these other duties that you have besides running the court. you are also chancellor of the smithsonian, but don't worry about it. it is really just kind of monday , routine -- mundane things you have to take care of, and it is largely ceremonial.
and then the very first meeting that he attends after he is confirmed is the meeting where -- confirmed by the senate is the meeting where they vote on where to place the national museum of african american history and culture, hardly mundane, inconsequential decision. but the museum now had a home in -- home, and the smithsonian hired the fabulous director lonnie bunch who did all of the work to gather the collections and raise the money and design the building and give the -- so it would open this coming saturday. so we are at the end of this long road, 100 years after they movement began. what does it mean? well i think it means different , things to different people. one meaning of this museum is unity. it will be a place where we can
come together and look at the efforts over the years by people of goodwill regardless of their race, their background, their ethnicity their station in , life, their religion, who came together to try to improve the lot of african-americans and bridge some of the gaps in this country. another meaning that it has is the really, to tell the story of the struggle to become a more perfect union, to describe the compromises and the accommodations of slavery that really sullied the constitution. and how slavery tore the nation apart. it took a war to preserve the union, and it took constitutional amendments and statutes and litigations and
protests to try to get this country to live up to the ideals that it was supposed to, that was espoused, and is supposed to represent for all citizens. , but had not represented for african-american citizens. the museum i think is also the story of the power and the moral significance of recognition and respect. back in 1916 when this began, the leader in congress was an illinois congressman named leah negus dyer. and he was also the leader of the efforts to pass federal anti-lynching legislation to try to stop the scourge of lynching that was going on all over the in the, but particularly south. he saw these two things as hand-in-hand. if you can recognize african-americans for their contributions, for their
participation, for all of their achievements, you can see them as human. if you saw them as human, then perhaps you could see them as full citizens. you could perhaps see them as people who were entitled to due process of law rather than people who could just be drug out to jail and lynched on the street or burned at the stake. disfigured in and a picnic atmosphere for sport. ultimately, we will see the ultimate power of recognition and respect when president obama gives the speech and throws open the doors of this museum this saturday. recall that in 1929, the presidential commission seeking to create this national museum
could not even get the president of the united states to take a photograph with them. the photographer who was with that delegation that day was a black man named addison scurlock. addison scurlock took photographs of all sorts of memorable events and people in the african-american community and because of that, his , photographs are now in that museum, and you can go see them. so we went from 100 years ago to scurlock not even being able to take a picture of the president to an african-american president opening the museum ock'swill house scurl photographs. at that 1968 hearing james , baldwin said to congress "i am the flesh of your flesh and bone of your bone. i have been here as long as you have been here, longer.
i paid for it as much as you have. it is my country too. we recognize that is the whole question. my history and culture has got to be taught. it is yours." thank you. [applause] so we have time for some questions, and there is a gentleman here who has a question. >> i understand that you have an opportunity recently to visit the museum and the exhibits. can you talk a little bit about your impressions and also the emotions you experienced in seeing it completed? robert wilkins: it was amazing to see it.
it was a little like, you know, seeing your child being born. the exhibits are great. they have done a fantastic job. it was especially significant being there this past saturday evening because there were a lot of people who had donated heirlooms and artifacts to the museum who were there for this special preview, and so we saw people standing next to, you know the guitar they had donated , that their great-grandfather had played. you know, i saw chuck brown, the go-go's singer, his two sons standing in front of the exhibit that he was part of as part of the music, the history of african-american music. it was just so poignant to see these people, to see a man who
was the seventh generation descendent of robert smalls, one of the first african-american u.s. senators and a hero of the civil war standing next to the statue, life-size statue of his, i don't know how many great-grandfathers. ,it was just really impactful to see the power of recognition and respect. and also see the stories told there and the hard truth about america being told there. but i think told in a way that is dignified and in a way that is ultimately edified. over here. >> thank you. first of all thank you for the , talk. it was really interesting. and i guess my question is going , forward, how do you see this museum playing a role in or helping to shape the way the
country continues to grapple with race and its relationship to race, particularly given the context that we are in now with black lives matter and a number of racial justice activist movements across the country. where do you see this museum fitting in? robert wilkins: i think that the museum can play an important role, but i think we have to manage expectations. we shouldn't expect that this museum, that this one building can be a panacea, that it can be a cure to race issues in america. but it can play an important role. i think that anytime you have an institution that will help educate people, help them context, to understand where we have been, to appreciate progress we have made, and then also to understand that, wow why are we , still talking about certain things today that were being
discussed 30, 40, more years ago that perhaps can create a more sense of urgency or a sense of context. senator brownback, now governor brownback, used to say as he fought for this museum that we needed to lance the boil and race in this country, and that this museum could help do that. that we wouldn't be able to heal until we really exposed the history for what it was and came to grips with it, not to sweep it under the rug not to minimize , it or act like it didn't happen, to acknowledge it not so that we can dwell on it and he -- be mad about it forever, but so we could contextualize it and figure out how to move forward and i think the museum can do , that. well.
professor mac. >> all right. you talked a little about your personal role in creating a museum, and i for one think your personal role has been under emphasized in the story of the museum. i remember a moment where you sat in my house and told me that you had resigned your job that work on your income to the museum. can you talk a little bit -- i you talked about -- i know you talked about the reasons, the motivations, the things that made you do this. but certainly part of the long, hard struggle is the struggle to believe that this can happen. can you just talk a little bit about moments of doubt, moments where you questioned, and you
know what made you believe that , this could really happen? robert wilkins: i will tell this with a big disclaimer. don't try this at home. [laughter] robert wilkins: you know as i , became more and more obsessed with wanting to see this museum happen, i saw that other museums like the holocaust museum, the national museum of the american indian, that there have been people working full-time to push, to create those entities , and so it occurred to me that somebody needed to be working full-time outside of congress to push to create this entity, and i decided that, you know i would , do that. and so i quit my job at the public defender service. my wife was seven months pregnant with our second child, and it was the best closing argument i have given in my life to convince her to let me do this.
[laughter] robert wilkins: but we decided we would try to give it a go for a year on one salary, and we would eat a lot of beans and cornbread, and we would figure out how to make it. but it was very difficult during that time because most people didn't really, a lot of people didn't believe in the vision or even if they were supportive, , they didn't think it could happen. i talk about this in the book but the engine went out on our , main vehicle during that time to would require a $7,000 $10,000 repair that took all of our nest egg out in one fell swoop. the judge that i had clerked for passed away, and i wanted to go to his funeral in san diego, but a last-minute flight from washington to san diego was beyond my means, so i couldn't even go honor the judge who had , you know, lost my career and
had been this important mentor to me, so there were times when i felt like i was crazy, that i was a failure. but i resigned to keep pressing on, and that is what you have to do sometimes. and, you know watching the , example of congressman lewis and others who were devoted to this, you know, kept me, undergird it me and kept me and gave me the strength to keep on but ultimately, there was an army of people who made this happen, and when you are part of a movement, when you are part of a collective effort, you can go beyond, you know your own , individual doubts and rely upon the courage of others as well.
>> forgive me, i came a bit late, and i was running from class so if this is repetitive, i apologize. i am sure you have heard this several times, but what is the importance of having this be its own entity rather than say within the national museum of american history, to you robert wilkins:? robert wilkins:so it is a good question, and it was something that was debated in the 1980's and early 1990's about whether there should be a separate museum, whether that somehow was , you know, you know segregationist or inappropriate , to do. but ultimately, the conclusion of a lot of historians and a lot of the people working on this was that it's not separate in the sense that african-american history is also american history, and you can't really understand the country and the
constitution and the evolution of lots of social and economic and political change in this country without looking at the african-american story. and so in that sense, it's not really separate, but it deserves a separate emphasis, it's own emphasis, its own building so that it does get the proper recognition, because we tried for decades to get significant recognition in the american history museum and some of the other museums, and that didn't work. and so having this new museum to really emphasize that story, we felt was important, and i think it plays a great role, and it's right next door to the american history museum of the smithsonian. so they can have a dialogue, and from that dialogue, i think we will all be richer for it.
i think maybe one last question. >> thank you so much for coming today and for your effort in all of this. it's really impressive and inspiring. and my question is that, i'm doing some research on the importance of memorials and monuments in the search for, i guess transitional justice, the , importance of these symbols. and i was wondering to what extent you think that the african-american museum will feel the niche that for example a slavery museum would. ,do you think it kind of serves as a catchall museum that can
encompass those things. and i think it's significant you brought up the holocaust museum because if you look at the list of holocaust museums and american jewish museums we have in this country, you realize we do see a distinction between naming an atrocity and naming the people who experienced the atrocity. so what point do you think it is important to continue the search for transitional justice and a slavery monument slavery museum , and what advice would you give so it's not the next 100 years before that happens? robert wilkins: ok, that is quite a question. [laughter] robert wilkins: here is my stab at answering it. i think part of your question is an answer to the last question, which is that i think, in a sense, this museum is a memorial similar to they called it the national memorial building when this beginning in the 1910's. also a museum but it is
memorial, and that is another reason why it is important for its own entity, its own building. there are people who thought that this museum should be a slavery museum or who wanted to create a slavery museum, a national slavery museum. that,tely, we believed those of us working on this, slavery is obviously important and needs to be remembered and there needs to be kind of a memorial to those victims but you can do that in the context of a museum that tells the story of the whole african-american experience, which of course is much more than slavery. people can debate that until the cows come home. i am a realist, i don't really care about some of those academic debates. i like to see things done that will, that will push us forward and to find the best way to get
to yes and to get things done. i don't know what advice i could give someone who wants to create a slavery memorial or a slavery museum other than buckle up, you know, it is a long ride. [laughter] robert wilkins: thank you. [applause] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2016] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] announcer: interested in "american history tv?" visit our website c-span.org/history. you can watch a recent program. american artifacts, road to the white house we wind, lectures in history and more at
c-span.org/history. announcer: this weekend, former senator bob dole, nancy, and is represented in the 1970's and 1990's represent their careers and state of congress today. here's a preview. >> to tell a story, and i don't know if it was on this issue of someone who is giving a bad time to everybody. you told him to get up and leave. , andere was a republican we had a conference. i was starting to get votes. i can't win without votes. he was very contrary. he thought i was a big [indiscernible] or something. so i said, do you want to be the leader? if you do, let's have a vote right now. come up, we will have the conference vote.
down, i didn't hear much from him afterwards. [laughter] >> but that is an example, i that, of one issue i know there was a lot of controversy and not controversy, but people were concerned about one aspect or another of that bill, and it took that kind of leadership, majority leader and his dedication to it to make it work. >> that is one that i worked with ted kennedy. >> that is true. >> you want to work with kennedy, you better be prepared. heelys had an excellent staff. -- he always had an excellent staff. you are never better than your staff. that is true with ku or anywhere else. you have a good staff, you are going to get the credit, but they are going to do a lot of the work. announcer: you can watch the
entire event at 4:30 p.m. eastern time sunday here on "american history tv." every four years, the presidential candidates turn from politics to humor at the alfred smith memorial dinner to raise money for catholic charities. at the historical waldorf hotel story of hotel -- >> i have traveled the circuit for many years. i never understood the logistics of dinners like this and how the absence of one individual can cause three of us not to have seats. >> i am glad to see you here tonight. he said many times this campaign you want to give america back to the little guy. [laughter] i am thatresident, man. >> it is an honor to share the dais with the defendant of the great al smith. your great-grandfather was my favorite kind of governor.
the kind who ran for president and lost. right, a campaign can require a lot of work through changes. blue jeans in the morning perhaps, suits for a luncheon fundraiser, sport coat or dinner , but it is nice to wear -- where when ed and i wear around the house. announcer 1: watch them loyal dinner with hillary clinton and donald trump thursday 9:00 eastern on c-span and c-span.org. listen at 9:00 eastern to the radio at. >> when you go back, does it play in peoria? they use to market a lot of things because peoria represented the midwest part of the country, but it also is a could play here, it can play anywhere. announcer 2:el