Mason and the National Museum of African American History and Culture

Posted: October 3, 2016 at 5:09 pm

The military uniform worn by late Brig. Gen. Hazel Johnson-Brown, a former Mason faculty member, is on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. (Photo courtesy of the Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Alice Calberb F. Royal).

The military uniform worn by late Brig. Gen. Hazel Johnson-Brown, a former Mason faculty member, is on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. (Photo courtesy of the Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Alice Calberb F. Royal).

The opening last week of the National Museum of African American History and Culture is a landmark occasion for our country. I’m proud to say that Mason students, faculty and alumni have played a part in this endeavor. They’ve curated and documented exhibits, served as advisors and helped develop the museum’s app. One former faculty member is even the subject of an important displayed object.

Here are five Mason contributors I know about. There could be more!

Spencer Crew, a Robinson Professor of History, served as a guest curator for six years to prepare various exhibitions for the museum, including “Defending Freedom, Defining Freedom: Era of Segregation 1876 to 1968,” which covers the post-Reconstruction period to the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Prof. Crew was quoted in this Washington Post article about the museum.

Deborah Willis, who earned her PhD in Cultural Studies from Mason in 2003, is on the Scholar Advisory Council for the museum. Willis is now chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. She has received the Guggenheim, Fletcher, and MacArthur fellowships and has been named one of the “100 Most Important People in Photography” by American Photography magazine.

The Washington Post called the uniform worn by late Brig. Gen. Hazel Johnson-Brown, a former Mason faculty member, one of the “36 of the most emotionally and historically resonant treasures in the collection that no visitor should miss.”

Johnson-Brown, a nurse and teacher, in 1979 became the first female African American general and also was the first African American to hold the position of Chief of the Army Nurse Corps. She later taught in the graduate nursing program at Mason and served as director of the Center for Health Policy. Among many of her contributions to Mason, we owe her the hiring of other impressive faculty members.  For example, she recruited professor Charlene Douglas to Mason from her White House fellowship, and continued to mentor her until she passed away.  After retiring from Mason, the university named Johnson-Brown Professor Emerita.

Lindsey Bestebreurtje, an American history PhD student, worked as a contractor with the Office of Curatorial Affairs at the museum. She helped develop the museum’s app, digitally expanding on and supplementing the museum’s offerings. Bestebreurtje, who earned the Provost Award at Mason, gained valuable experience at George Mason’s Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media.

Jordan Patty, a history PhD student, worked as a contract media collections cataloger at the museum this summer, making sure media and physical objects are included in the museum’s catalog. Patty applied to this job what he learned as a manuscripts and archives librarian at Mason Libraries.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture will for ever be a treasure in the heart of our Nation’s Capital. It will help generations of Americans of all backgrounds appreciate how far we have come as a nation and reflect on how far we are yet to go.

Write to presidentstaff at scullen1@gmu.edu

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