The Paris Review

An Intimate History of America

Arthur Rothstein, Girl at Gee’s Bend, Alabama, 1937. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

As we walked through the , I pushed my grandfather in a wheelchair he had reluctantly agreed to sit in. He is a proud man who also knows that his knees aren’t what they once were—that years of high school and college football had long accelerated the deterioration of his aging joints. We got into an elevator that brought us down to the bottom level of the museum, where visitors begin their journey with displays that outline the earliest years of black life in this country. We made our way through the exhibitions that document the state-sanctioned violence black people experienced

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