From the moment the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture opened its doors in Washington last year, the 1963 graduating class of Miami Northwestern Senior High School began planning a trip.
“You don’t know the people (who) paved the way for you all to be where you are now,” Claudette Farrington said. “So, yeah, it really meant a lot to us to go to this museum.”
Originally an all-black school, many alumni at Miami Northwestern were part of the civil rights movement.
“I always tell my children about those days and they just, you know, to them, it’s crazy,” Farrington said. “But they don’t understand.”
Farrington’s graduating class has stayed close since high school and has planned trips and funded scholarships for current students.
Classmate Alphonso Walker now lives in Maryland, and when the museum opened in September, he and Farrington got to work planning a trip.
Passes for the museum are free, but they said the museum instructed them to request group passes online for their group of nearly 60 people. They did that in February and got an automated reply.
Farrington said the message said: “If we are not able to fulfill your request, we will contact you with instructions for how to select another date and time.”
Farrington said the email from the museum’s ticket vendor said someone would contact them within 14 days to confirm or let them know if they needed to choose another date for their visit.
When that didn’t happen, they assumed the passes would come in the mail.
The group chartered two buses, booked hotels and restaurants for the long road trip. But those arrangements would eventually be canceled.
Weeks later, they had no passes and no one to answer emails or calls.
“I think the longest I held on was four hours one day. I got so tired of listening to music,” Farrington said.
By late March, Walker said he got an email confirming passes, but they were for August, not July. Then an email came from the museum stating Walker had agreed to accept passes for August.
Walker said he had not talked to anyone at the museum about changing the date.
“It hurts, you know, because we were so excited about the trip,” Farrington said.
A museum spokeswoman, Shrita Hernandez, sent Local 10 News a statement that read: “We, at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, are honored to have welcomed nearly 2 million visitors since opening last September. We are humbled by the support and interest in the museum, and take every action to receive as many visitors as possible. We are sorry that we cannot accommodate everyone who wants to visit. We will continue working with Claudette Farrington and her classmates to find a time for their visit.”
“I went on their webpage a couple weeks ago and now they’ve stopped giving group passes,” Farrington said.
A representative for the museum said that’s because there was a backlog of over 30,000 requests for group passes.
Farrington said they are still hoping to plan a trip for next year’s 55th class reunion — but at 71 years old, she said planning a trip like this isn’t easy and they don’t want to wait much longer.
“We said, ‘We don’t know how long we have, you know, and we really, really (were) excited about going on this trip, because next year we don’t know who’s going to be with us,” Farrington said.
Local 10 News checked back with the museum about the status of group passes and a representative said they are still working on a timeline for when those passes will be available in the future.
Farrington said that her group is getting 60 passes for a visit in June next year.