Nooses Are Found Hanging Outside the Smithsonian’s African American and Hirshhorn Museums

The Smithsonian called the acts "cowardly" and "deplorable," vowing to fight racism with "new urgency."

The National Museum of African American History and Culture. Courtesy Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of African American History and Culture Architectural Photrography.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture. Courtesy Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of African American History and Culture Architectural Photrography.

Nooses were left hanging at two Smithsonian museums in Washington, DC, this week, in what can be described as an overt act of racism and intimidation. The first was found on Friday, May 26, hanging from a tree on the grounds of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and the second on Wednesday, May 31, in an exhibition about segregation at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC).

“The noose has long represented a deplorable act of cowardice and depravity—a symbol of extreme violence for African Americans,” wrote NMAAHC director Lonnie Bunch III in a statement. “Today’s incident is a painful reminder of the challenges that African Americans continue to face.”

The noose at the NMAAHC was discovered by visitors to “Defending Freedom, Defining Freedom: Era of Segregation 1876–1968,” one of the permanent exhibitions at the institution, which opened in September 2016. The Hirshhorn noose was spotted by security after the museum closed on Friday night. In response, the US Park Police were called to the scene, according to the Washington Post.

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC. Courtesy of WIkimedia Commons.

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

“The Smithsonian family stands together in condemning this act of hatred and intolerance, especially repugnant in a museum that affirms and celebrates the American values of inclusion and diversity,” wrote Smithsonian Institution secretary David Skorton in an institution-wide email.

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser also condemned the act, writing on Twitter that “it is an unfortunate irony that a sign of intimidation/ignorance would be placed on our National Mall where Americans of all walks of life come to learn more about who we are, celebrate our diversity and leave inspired to improve their lives, communities and country.”

The perpetrator was able to bring the noose into the NMAAHC despite metal detector and bag screening security. The affected exhibit was closed for approximately three hours as security responded to the discovery of the noose.

The two museums are not the only organizations targeted with this message of hate in recent times, with nooses previously appearing at various sites in California, Maryland, North Carolina, and DC. Such incidents of hatred appear to be on the rise following the election of President Donald Trump, according research done by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“We haven’t seen such mainstream support for hate in decades, not since the Civil Rights era 50 years ago,” SPLC spokesperson Ryan Lenz told the Smithsonian Magazine. “We’re witnessing a moment when there are tremendous challenges to the country that we built on pluralism and democracy. The civil rights accorded every American are firmly under threat.”

Despite being targeted, the Smithonian remains undaunted. “We will not be intimidated,” wrote Skorton. “With new urgency, we will tell the story of our nation and all its people. We will continue to fight this sort of ignorance with knowledge. Cowardly acts like these will not, for one moment, prevent us from the vital work we do. We will remain vigilant and, in spite of these deplorable acts, we will become a stronger institution for all Americans.”

artnet News reached out to the Hirshhorn for comment but had not heard back as of press time.


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