From ‘Our Divided Nation’ to ‘Our Shared Future’ Museums and the Advancement of Equity and Understanding

From ‘Our Divided Nation’ to “Our Shared Future’ 
Museums and the Advancement of Equity and Understanding

Hosted by Kevin Gover, Smithsonian Under Secretary for Museums and Culture

Click the ‘play’ button in the center of your screen to view the event, originally aired on October 27, 2021.

In response to protests and unrest in more than 150 American cities in 1968, President Lydon B. Johnson convened the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, better known as the Kerner Commission, to consider the root causes of the disturbances and recommend national action.

In its landmark report, the Commission concluded “white racism” was the leading cause of “our divided nation,” and called on the country to “make good the promises of American democracy to all citizens—urban and rural, white and black, Spanish surname, American Indian and every minority group.” To do so, the Commission noted, would require “from every attitudes, new understanding, and above all, a new will.”

The protests across America over the past 18 months have demonstrated that the collective “new will” envisioned by the Commission remains unrealized. The launch of the Smithsonian’s “Our Shared Future: Reckoning with Our Racial Past” initiative and the creation of two new museums by Congress—the Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum and the National Museum of the American Latino—are unique opportunities to explore how museums can help foster that new will and promote the Commission’s goal of “common opportunities for all.”

This event, exploring how museums and cultural institutions can serve as an engine for social justice and the changes needed to end racial and economic inequality, was hosted by Smithsonian Under Secretary for Museums and Culture Kevin Gover, along with

  • Anthea M. Hartig, Elizabeth MacMillan Director, National Museum of American History,
  • Kevin Young, Andrew W. Mellon Director, National Museum of African American History and Culture,
  • Theo Gonzalvez, Interim Director, Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center,
  • Deborah L. Mack, Director, Smithsonian “Our Shared Future” Initiative, and
  • Tey Marianna Nunn, Director, Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative.

This conversation was supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in cooperation with the Milton S. Eisenhower Foundation.