In the 1989 Smithsonian Year, Secretary Robert McCormick Adams expressed that he was "determined to make the whole staff of the Smithsonian, and in particular its professional ranks and senior administration, more representative of the multiracial, multiethnic society from which it is drawn."
That same year the Smithsonian African American Association (SAAA) was organized on May 10, 1989 and was officially recognized on February 21, 1990 by memorandum of Secretary Adams.
The SAAA was formed to be:
an assembly of the Institution's employees who have organized to project a united voice, to have an impact upon pan-institutional policies that affect African Americans, and to convey these concerns to the Smithsonian Administration. (SAAA Constitution, 2004)
And whose purpose was:
To discover and convey to the Smithsonian administration the concerns and needs of African American employees on all levels; to share information related to Smithsonian Institution issues among SI staff and members of the SAAA; to provide a united voice representing SAAA viewpoints on issues, and to achieve liveable solutions when addressing African American concerns; to establish an African American network within SI, including all the corollary benefits of mentorship; to play an educational role in clarifying SI policies and procedures; to assure that the African American Community, local and national, is informed about resources and activities at the Smithsonian; to advise and assist the Smithsonian Institution in the implementation of its policy of providing equality of opportunity in all its official actions. (SAAA Constitution, 2004)
A 1989 Smithsonian employment profile stated that out of approximately 6200 employees, 2096 were of African descent (in comparison, in 2015, out of 6511 employees, there are 1850 African American employees). However the majority of those employees were in lower level jobs. SAAA was organized in part to support the Smithsonian's commitment and objective to end discrimination and to support and provide for the better use of human resources to ensure equal opportunity for African Americans. In 1992 membership stood at 650 from the museums and offices in the Washington, D.C. area and New York City.
In addition to monthly meetings, the activities of the SAAA included:
- Providing training programs
- Publication of a newsletter, The Prophet, which among other things highlighted the achievements of members of the Association
- Organizing social events
Another important role the SAAA played was to provide support and advocacy for increased African American representation in exhibitions and programs, not to mention being a champion for a National Museum of African American History and Culture. Indeed, on November 21, 1989, Co-chair of SAAA, Phyllis Cunningham, provided a statement before the Subcommittee on Libraries and Memorials, Committee on House Administration, U. S. House of Representatives in support of the creation of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, opening September 24, 2016.
- Accession 99-016: Smithsonian African American Association, Records, 1989-1996, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- The Prophet, Volume 1, Number 1, Accession 99-016, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- The Prophet, Volume 1, Number 2, Accession 99-016, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- The Prophet, Volume 1, Number 3, Accession 99-016, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- The Prophet, Volume 1, Number 4, Accession 99-016, Smithsonian Institution Archives