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Students add their pieces to new museum's story

September 11th, 2017

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – After 100 years in the making, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) opened to great fanfare in Washington, D.C., and in diverse locations around the country, including Bethel College.

President Barack Obama cut the ribbon on opening day, Sept. 24, on the National Mall. In addition, any public library, school or museum in the United States could apply to host a set of posters that give an overview of the new museum – what it contains, how it’s organized, where it sits on the mall and how the building looks.

“There are 35,000 museums in this country,” said Annette LeZotte, director of Bethel’s Kauffman Museum, “plus the colleges, libraries, schools and so on. Kauffman Museum was one of only 67 sites chosen to host the poster display.”

The National Museum of African American History and Culture, part of the Smithsonian Institution, was first the dream of African-American Civil War veterans, who persuaded Congress to pass a bill in 1915 saying it should exist – but allocating no funding.

It was only in 2003 that President George W. Bush signed the bill that set aside $270 million – half of the estimated cost – to build the museum. The rest has been raised from private and corporate donors.

LeZotte gave a presentation on the new museum to Bethel students in convocation Sept. 19 and again for the public Sept. 24, when the poster display opened. It will stay at Kauffman Museum until Oct. 9, she said.

In her talk to the students, LeZotte quoted Lonnie Bunch III, who became the NMAAHC’s founding director in 2005, on the museum’s mission: “This is not being built as a museum by African Americans for African Americans. The notion that is so important here is that African-American culture is used as a lens to understand what it means to be American.”

One of the reasons she believes Kauffman Museum’s proposal to host the poster exhibit was successful, she said, was the museum’s willingness and ability to plan and carry out related programs.

One of those took place Sept. 25, when #PieceUnited opened at Kauffman Museum. Bethel’s Student Government Association (SGA) is sponsoring the display of student creative work – visual art and written word.

Students were asked to share “a piece” of African-American history or culture that has a personal meaning to them, and about 20 of them did. On the afternoon of Sept. 25, Bethel students, faculty and community members stopped by Kauffman Museum to look at the #PieceUnited display.

#PieceUnited will remain at Kauffman Museum through most of October (and students can keep adding to it while it’s there). Eventually, it will travel locally – museum staff is in discussion with several regional museums and galleries about displaying the Bethel student exhibit.

Bethel College is the only private college in Kansas listed in the analysis of top colleges and universities, the Washington Monthly National Universities-Liberal Arts section and the National Liberal Arts College category of U.S. News & World Report, all for 2016'17. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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About Bethel

As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.