A Changing America: 1968 and Beyond explores contemporary black life through stories about the social, economic, political, and cultural experiences of African Americans. From the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. to the second election of Barack Obama, the coverage is broad. Large scale graphics and original artifacts lead visitors from the Black Arts Movement to Hip Hop, the Black Panthers to “Yes We Can," and Black is Beautiful to #BlackLivesMatter. 

This exhibition also considers the challenges faced by African Americans – challenges compounded with experiences of class, gender, and immigration – as they continue to fight for racial equity and social justice, issues as relevant to the 21st century as to the 20th.    

Main Messages

  • Continue the chronological exploration of African American activism and the quest for justice and equality begun in the exhibitions on slavery and segregation.
  • Demonstrate the centrality of African American contributions and challenges to contemporary American culture and politics.
  • Encourage visitors to think about ways they can help make America a more just and equitable place by providing historical context for honest discussions about race and social justice.
Dress designed by Tracy Reese and worn by the First Lady in connection with the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, 2013

Dress designed by Tracy Reese and worn by the First Lady in connection with the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, 2013

Exhibition Experience

The Black Power Era: The 1960s and ‘70s

The year 1968 marked a turning point in the African American freedom movement. The struggle for African American liberation took on new dimensions, recognizing that simply ending Jim Crow segregation would not achieve equality and justice. The movement also increasingly saw itself as part of a global movement for liberation, involving anti-colonial revolutions in African nations and youth-led counter-cultural uprisings in Europe and the Americas.

The Movement Marches On

By the mid-1970s, the Black Power Movement had lost much of its momentum due to government repression, internal conflicts, a conservative backlash, and the evidence of some progress toward equal rights. This did not mean the end of activism, however, as African Americans continued to organize in support of equal access and opportunity. Moreover, the black liberation movement inspired and encouraged Latinos, Asian Americans, American Indians, women, gays, and those at the intersection of these identities to organize their own social justice movements. 

The Black Studies Movement and The Black Museum Movement

The creation of Black Studies programs on university campuses provided the first wide-scale institutional support for the study of African American history. By 1975, there were more than 200 university programs in Black or Africana studies. Simultaneously, institutions founded and operated by African Americans collected, preserved, and displayed to the public material evidence of African American culture and accomplishments.

Shifting Landscapes: Cities and Suburbs

Manufacturing jobs had been the mainstay of urban black families. Those jobs dried up as corporations moved factories out of the city or out of the country. Just as black politicians were elected to local office, city governments found it increasingly difficult to provide good housing, schools, roads, police, health care, and even garbage disposal. Activists and neighborhood organizations created programs to address needs and protested against policies that disadvantaged minorities and the poor. Attracted by more spacious homes and improved municipal services, black families moved from the inner city to a surrounding suburb when they could. Black newcomers immigrating from Africa and the Americas changed the composition of major metropolitan areas.

Decades of Paradox and Promise (1970-2015)

African Americans entered the last quarter of the 20th century with some cautious optimism given the progress made over the previous generation. The election and re-election of Barack H. Obama as the 44rd President of the United States symbolized these changes. However, with the rise of the black business elite, a clear and seemingly intractable gap now separated the black middle and small upper class from those living in poverty. Black communities continued to face institutional racism, police violence, increased incarceration, and substandard education, housing, and health care. In an era when African Americans prominently influenced American cultural and political affairs, racial equity and social justice remained sought-after goals rather than accomplishments.

By the turn of the 21st century, African Americans were more culturally, politically, and economically diverse than ever. The immigration of hundreds of thousands of Africans and Afro-Caribbeans since the Immigration Reform Act of 1965 changed the face of black America. Conversations about identity and community played out in public as a savvy generation of multi-ethnic black Americans used social media to document and comment about history in the making.

Poster for presidential candidate Shirley Chisholm, 1972. Gifted with pride from Ellen Brooks.
Vietnam tour jacket with black power embroidery, 1971-72.
Boombox carried by Radio Raheem in the film Do the Right Thing, 1989
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