National Women’s History Museum Opens Inaugural In-person Exhibition at the MLK Library Focusing on DC Black Feminists and their Influence on National Policy
Washington, DC (March 29, 2023) – On Thursday, March 30, 2023 the National Women’s History Museum will debut its inaugural in-person exhibition at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in downtown Washington, DC.
Entitled We Who Believe in Freedom: Black Feminist DC, the exhibition highlights more than 20 Black women activists whose work in Washington, DC influenced national policy from the turn of the 20th century through the civil rights and Black Power movements.
“Our inaugural exhibit explores the stories and voices of Black feminist organizers and theorists whose work changed the trajectory for the lives of millions—work that continues today and is often overlooked in history books," said Susan D. Whiting, Board Chair, NWHM. “The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library is a beautiful venue to exhibit this important cultural content and, as a public building, ensures that the exhibit is accessible to all.”
This is a major milestone for The National Women’s History Museum (NWHM), the nation’s leading cultural institution for women’s history. Created more than 25 years ago to address the dearth of female representation in museums and history books, NWHM brings to life the contributions and accomplishments of women throughout history with interactive online content, high-quality K-12 educational programming, and myriad virtual and in-person events throughout the year.
The exhibition, curated by historians Sherie M. Randolph and Kendra T. Field, focuses on the stories and voices of more than twenty Black feminist organizers and theorists—including Anna Julia Cooper, Mary Church Terrell, Eleanor Holmes Norton, and Loretta Ross—whose work changed the trajectory of the lives of millions of Black women in DC community and across the country. Despite their significant contributions, many remain largely unknown to the public.
Pauli Murray, for example, graduated from Howard University School of Law in 1942 and coined the term “Jane Crow” to describe Black Women’s experiences of racism and sexism. Murray’s legal ideas informed Brown v. Board of Education, Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, Reed v. Reed, which ruled that gender discrimination is unconstitutional, and other landmark Supreme Court decisions and important Congressional legislation.
“In the decades after general emancipation, DC became an incredibly important destination for freedom’s first generation,” said Dr. Kendra T. Field, exhibition curator and associate professor of history and Director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Tufts University. “Tens of thousands of formerly enslaved women and their daughters migrated to DC to chart a freer life. Born during the last years of racial slavery in the U.S., women like Anna Julia Cooper and Mary Church Terrell migrated to DC and emerged as leading Black feminist educators, activists, and theorists. They built and organized the local and national Black women’s club movement and laid important groundwork for generations of Black feminists. It has been an honor to contribute to this important exhibit.”
“I hope visitors leave inspired to create a radical, emphatic, mobilizing feminist theory of their own. We need more theory and action inspired by Black feminism,” said Dr. Sherie M. Randolph, exhibition curator and associate professor of history at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “Write more poems, write more books and more manifestos connected to action. That would be a gift to us all.”
The exhibit grew out of a unique partnership between NWHM and DC Public Library at the Martin Luther King Jr. Library. Read more about it here. The museum plans to work in communities across the nation to uncover local women’s history and build sustainable and scalable programming and exhibitions housed in local libraries, cultural institutions, and community gathering spaces.
Important Media Information:
- Media interested in a walk through, or in speaking with a NWHM representative, must contact Jeannette O’Connor at [email protected].
- The grand opening event will take place on Thursday, March 30 from 5:00-8:00pm. Information about the program is available here. Contact Jeannette O’Connor at [email protected] to RSVP. Media space is limited.
- We Who Believe in Freedom: Black Feminist DC will open and free to the public from March 30, 2023 through September 2024.
- The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library is located at 901 G Street NW in downtown Washington, DC.
- Biographies of the women featured in the exhibit are available here.
- Images and renderings from the exhibition are here.
- A companion website with more information about Black Feminist DC is available here.
NWHM founding investors have made this exhibition possible: AARP Foundation, ArentFox Schiff, Jon S. and Kerrie Bouker, Chicago Pacific Founders, Mari Snyder Johnson, Kaiser Permanente, Morgan Stanley, Dr. Nancy O’Reilly, Silver Mountain Foundation for the Arts, Meryl Streep, Mary Tolan, Susan D. Whiting, and Women Connect4Good Foundation.
About the National Women's History Museum
Founded in 1996, the National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) is an innovative museum dedicated to uncovering, interpreting, and celebrating women’s diverse contributions to society. A renowned leader in women’s history education, the Museum brings to life the countless untold stories of women throughout history, and serves as a space for all to inspire, experience, collaborate, and amplify women’s impact—past, present, and future. We strive to fundamentally change the way women and girls see their potential and power.
The NWHM fills in major omissions of women in history books and K-12 education, providing scholarly content and educational programming for teachers, students, and parents. We reach more than four million visitors each year through our online content and education programming and, in March 2023, mounted our first physical exhibit at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in downtown Washington, DC, We Who Believe in Freedom: Black Feminist DC. The Museum is a nonpartisan, nonprofit 501(c)3. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and visit us at womenshistory.org.