The NMAAHC’s Great Migration Home Movie Project

The picture shows a young Black mom holding her toddler in her lap on a gray cloth sofa. They are looking at a laptop monitor and laughing joyfully together

In September 2016, the Smithsonian opened its 19th museum to the public, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). One purpose of the museum is “to promote and highlight the contributions of African Americans.” And one of the ways the museum is going about this is making its digital preservation efforts a priority.

One of the most critically important museum initiatives is the “Great Migration Home Movie Project: Digitizing African American Home Movies & Analog Audiovisual Media.” Mainstream media and film has historically lacked accurate visual representations of the African American family experience. NMAAHC launched this media preservation project to showcase this lived experience. The museum has invited members of the public to submit media materials recorded and saved by family members so that their stories can become part of our historic record.

The selections from the Great Migration project include opportunities for the public to view authentic media by Black filmmakers In 2018, the museum held a four-day film festival that featured approximately 80 preserved and restored films. Today, the project has collected more than “825 digitized audiovisual media objects,” and will continue to accept more on an on-going basis. Interested Individuals and organizations can have “their media digitized for free in the Robert F. Smith Explore Your Family History Center” to contribute to the Great Migration Home Movie Project.

Robert F. Smith’s Contribution to the NMAAHC

The museum’s opening was the culmination of years of work and organization. Philanthropist Robert F. Smith donated $20 million to help launch NMAAHC in 2016. It was at the time the largest gift in the museum’s history. Smith provided funding for digitization programs, community outreach and curatorial initiatives.

Smith said in a 2016 interview with the Washington Post that, “This museum says that we African Americans are at the center of it all and now there is a creative and elegant building that is not just a temple, but is alive… This is a way of preserving our history for generations and ensure that the stories of our families continue to be told, generation after generation.”

Smith’s gift not only helped fund the Explore Your Family History Center and the Great Migration digital initiative, it also helped the museum launch its Community Curation Program, an online program that invites the individuals, families, or groups to record, preserve and share stories of daily life as an African American. The gift also helps to fund the Robert Frederick Smith Applied Public History Fellowship For HBCU Graduates, a two-year program that provides “advanced training and scholarly support in public history, museum management, outreach programming, and partnership building.” There is also the Robert F. Smith Internship Program, a program for individuals who are interested in gaining professional curatorial experience with the NMAAHC.

Learn more about Robert F. Smith’s work to preserve Black history, specifically the houses where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. lived.