Happy Election Day!
On Tuesday, September 14, 2010 – the day of primary elections in DC – I walked to my polling place, a short four blocks from my home. Then I took the Metro downtown for a Weekly Museum Visit at Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives.
The museum was surrounded by “Vote Here” signs”: it was another polling place. I asked if the museum was open for normal business and was welcomed inside. The visit was recharging in that I had the museum virtually to myself, able to read and look and walk around in peace and quiet. In fact, when I stood in one place long enough, reading an exhibit label, the light sensor sensed no one in the room, and the lights went out.
As a polling place, Sumner School is a historic building and history museum that plays a role in promoting civic engagement today. Exhibits I saw inside addressed other forms of civic engagement besides voting, from high school students participating in student groups, to the deliberations that go into urban planning, to the abolitionist leadership of Frederick Douglass.
The school historically served as a site for educating African American children in DC, and its exhibits today reflect DC educational history as well as black history. One milestone in the latter was gaining the right to vote regardless of skin color. Sumner School is not the only museum to celebrate the right to vote. Sewall-Belmont House, for example, is dedicated to telling the story of women suffragists, and the Newseum’s Every Four Years exhibit provides an electronic voting booth on which visitors can cast an unofficial presidential ballot. History museums play an important role not just in telling stories of the past, but also in encouraging civic engagement in museum visitors in the present.
Get out and vote, and earn yourself that “I Voted!” sticker!
Edited: Original post mistakenly referred to day of general election, not primaries.
November’s blog theme is Museums Versus the Problems of the World.