Black Power at Work: Hollywood Party Raises Over $17M to Fund Smithsonian’s African-American Museum

Actor Denzel Washington and his wife, Pauletta.

Actor Denzel Washington and his wife, Pauletta.

Oscar-winning actor Denzel Washington and his wife Pauletta opened the doors of their Hollywood Hills home Saturday to a number of big name celebrities and supporters of the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture. The Washingtons’ lavish party helped the museum reach its goal of raising $10 million, the Washington Post reports.

Among the party’s notable guests were Samuel L. Jackson, Earvin Magic Johnson and music producer Quincy Jones. According to, R&B vocalist Goapele Mohlabane also sang to guests throughout the evening.

Overall, the event garnered over $17 million and featured the announcement of a $10 million donation from successful television show producer Shonda Rhimes, reports. Rhimes will have a gallery in her name at the museum.

“There is such a historical significance to this project,’’ said Denzel Washington, who is currently directing actress Viola Davis in the film adaption of August Wilson’s play “Fences.” “It means so much for our community, our country and to future generations.’’

Per the Washington Post, founding director of the NMAAHC Lonnie Bunch described his surrounding as “a joyous Californian atmosphere” with people hanging out by the pool on a beautiful spring evening.

“There were a lot of people who would fall under the radar, names you don’t know,” Bunch said. “But it was really a chance to thank those folks who have given, and to get them excited. Magic Johnson gets excited; he can talk to other folks.”

Other Hollywood donors who contributed over $1 million to the project, but were unable to attend the festivities, include George Lucas and his wife Melody, and Oprah Winfrey, reports. Winfrey is the largest donor to date, giving over $21 million to the museum, which will feature artifacts like Harriet Tubman’s hymnal and Emmett Till’s original coffin. The site will house a 335-seat theater named after the media mogul.

Pauletta Washington said she was inspired to get involved with the NMAAHC after she visited a Holocaust museum in Israel with her husband and their four children.

“There was one room in the Holocaust museum that featured the clothes, shoes and other items of the children murdered there and it was very disturbing,’’ she recalled. “I asked my kids about it after we left and I could tell it haunted them, too. But it also made them think about their own history and they asked me where was there a place that told our (African-American) story. That hit me because I didn’t know at the time this museum was in the making.’’

Per Smithsonian Mag, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture is set to open on Sept. 24 and will feature 11 inaugural exhibitions displaying over 34,000 artifacts like a railroad passenger car dating back to the Jim Crow Era; abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison’s traveling trunk; Nat Turner’s Bible; and a variety of other rare objects that curators have collected. President Barack Obama will cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony.

The publication also reports that the museum was established in 2003 through legislation signed by then-president George W. Bush. Four years ago, on Feb. 22, the official groundbreaking took place between 14th and 15th streets in Washington, D.C. According to the Washington Post, Congress has already contributed $270 million for construction costs and private donations have peaked at $252 million. California donors have given over $55 million to the project over the last few years.

The 5-story museum will have five levels above ground and 4 more levels below ground, Smithsonian Mag reports. The building, a whopping 400,000-square-feet, will feature exhibition space, a theater and café, staff offices, an education center, and a light-filled memorial area called the Contemplative Space, where patrons are invited to reflect on the narratives they saw inside the museum. It will also open with a large collection of art and photography by artists like Charles Alston and Romare Bearden.

“After 13 years of hard work and dedication on the part of so many, I am thrilled,” said founding director of NMAAHC, Lonnie Bunch, in a report. “In a few short months visitors will walk through the doors of the museum and see that it is a place for all people. We are prepared to offer exhibitions and programs to unite and capture the attention of millions of people worldwide. It will be a place where everyone can explore the story of America through the lens of the African-American experience.”

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