The Quanders are the rare African American family that can trace their ancestors to the 17th century. With several hundred members living in Maryland, Virginia and the District, the family has been featured in exhibitions at the National Museum of American History and the Anacostia Museum and profiled on the History Channel, and they will be represented at an upcoming exhibit at Mount Vernon.
But the Quanders won’t be included in the inaugural exhibitions of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, opening Sept. 24 on the Mall. Their exclusion is not a statement of their historical importance, nor is it meant as a slight.
“Our museum is built on individual narratives, but you’re just not going to be able to tell everybody’s story,” curator Nancy Bercaw said.
Museums regularly field inquiries from the public about what they include in their displays and what they leave out. But the Smithsonian’s African American museum is likely to face increased attention. African Americans have waited for decades for the institution to open, and as a result, their expectations are high. In addition, the 19th Smithsonian museum is charged with telling 400 years of history from a national perspective. To do this, it has chosen stories that are representative of the many individual tales from all corners of the country. For every tale that is included, however, there are many more left out.
Everyone has a story, and those stories are all important. No one institution can preserve everything and preserve every story,” said Susan Schoelwer, senior curator of Mount Vernon, where an exhibition on slavery at George Washington’s estate opens in October and mentions the Quander family.
Ed Hines is a Quander descendant who wrote to Smithsonian officials last year after noticing that a Pennsylvania family was highlighted in a temporary exhibit at the American history museum.
“How can they overlook the oldest African American family in America, with a very prominent history through Washington, Maryland and Virginia? This is not something [if] you blink, you miss it,” Hines said.