A board member of the St. Petersburg Museum of History played a big role in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture that just opened in Washington, D.C.
Krewasky Salter is the chief curator for the new museum's military gallery. He lived in St. Petersburg the past two years while running his consulting and research company, 4K Enterprises, and worked on the museum in Washington. During his time in St. Petersburg he became involved in the local museum of history. (He also holds degrees from both the University of Florida and Florida State University.)
Salter, who also taught at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, has recently moved to Washington, but will continue to serve on the board of the St. Petersburg Museum of History. He will be back in town regularly, including for the opening of a traveling exhibit about African-Americans in World War II this month.
How did you become involved in the new Smithsonian African-American museum?
I'm a retired soldier. I spent 25 years in the military. My last assignment was at the Pentagon. When I was going through the transition to retirement in 2010 I read an article and learned about the museum. I started as a volunteer.
How did you have the expertise to curate the gallery?
I am a historian. While I was in the military I earned my master's and Ph.D. with an emphasis on military history and African-American history. I combined my two loves. In the mid 1990s I made myself an expert. Then low and behold, 15 to 20 years later a project like this comes along. To me it just felt like divine intervention.
What's the scope of the gallery?
We have over 141 individual artifacts and probably more than 60 collected artifacts (several artifacts put together as one).
We have over 200 pieces in the military gallery and probably more than 250 images to help interpret the stories. You have a plethora of artifacts and images to help interpret the history of African-Americans in the military from before the American Revolution through the present war on terror.
Do you have a favorite section of the gallery?
It changes every day. There is this one section that comes to the top of the list more than others. We interpret the story of all the African-Americans who have been awarded the Medal of Honor.
How many recipients are there?
Eighty-nine recipients have been awarded 90 Medals of Honor. One in the 1880s was awarded two.
What do you think visitors will walk away with that surprises them?
They will walk away not only from the military gallery, but from the entire museum with a lot of history that we did not quite receive in history classes. What we know people will walk away with is a greater understanding of African-Americans simply told through the African-American lens.
What are your suggestions for getting the most out of the museum if you don't have unlimited time to take it all in?
What we recommend for those who really want to get the full experience is you start on the ground level. You start in Africa and go through the middle crossing through slavery and the Civil War and end with the second inauguration of Barack Obama. You get the full history lesson. Then upstairs you have eight additional galleries (including military) where you can choose what interests you most if you can't see it all.
How did you feel when the museum opened?
We have been looking at the drawings for maybe two to three years of what the finished product would look like after we selected the artifacts and what stories would be told. When you see that all come together, all the hard work, and all the passion and all the professionalism come together into one beautiful building it was awesome and emotional.
Every single time I go into the museum I'm pleased to have been a small part of this project.
Katherine Snow Smith can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @snowsmith.