• if history were told as stories it'd never be forgotten...
    Craig L. Wilkins
    Detroit Historical Museum
    Feb 2025
    Craig L. Wilkins

“Proposed Negro Memorial Association Building; to commemorate the heroic deeds of negro soldiers and sailors who fought in all the nation’s wars,” ca. 1924. Rendering as published in a National Memorial Association promotional pamphlet

Despite the plethora of press and publications on the Smithsonian National African American Museum of History and Culture, the story of its improbable journey has largely remained untold—much less understood—in its proper context, one that centers on the unique relationship of African Americans to the National Mall and the Mall’s singular importance in the construction, celebration, and aims of national identity. Deploying a mix of historical documents, images, and original text, this installation creates four, time-specific, intersectional, creative nonfiction narratives tracing the African diaspora in the American identity project. Through the lens of a century-long quest to establish a distinct presence of African Americans on “America’s front lawn,” the exhibition interrogates and makes plain the real and often contentious connections between history, architecture, aspirational, and everyday experience, revealing the “evidence of things not seen” which James Baldwin once lamented.

A 2020 Bradford Grant Medal winner in Landscape Architecture and 2017 Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum National Design Award winner, Craig L. Wilkins is a leading scholar of African Americans in the field of architecture. His books, essays, articles, and public talks explore the rich social, cultural, political, historical, and aesthetic contributions of oft-ignored practitioners of color. His essays have been published in the Journal of Architectural Education, International Review of African American Art, Art South Africa, Volume, Minneapolis Star Tribune, and Detroit News, among others. A recipient of a 2008 Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture's Collaborative Practice Award, a 2010 Kresge Fellow, and winner of the 2015 “Dear Architecture” International Ideas Competition, Wilkins is also the author of multi-award winning The Aesthetics of Equity: Notes on Race, Space, Architecture & Music (University of Minnesota, 2007) and Diversity Among Architects: From Margin to Center (Routledge, 2016).