Near the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. sits the National Museum of African American History and Culture, part of the Smithsonian Institution, and the largest museum for African American culture in the country.
- Leaders began discussing the idea for a national museum on African American culture in 1915, but for years, plans and financing stalled. In the late 1980s, serious conversations resumed but it wasn’t until 2003 that an Act of Congress approved the plans.
- Construction for the 400,000 square foot museum began in 2012 and the museum opened in 2016 with President Barack Obama leading the dedication.
- The design plan was for a 10 story building, five stories above ground and five underneath. The site for the museum was on the south bank of Tiber Creek, which had been filled in the late 1800s. As construction crews dug into the ground, water began streaming into the hole. The architects were very worried, but came up with a solution. They built a large pool around the museum to hold the water.
- The museum’s exterior design includes inverted bronze half pyramids that reflect Africa’s influence as well as the complex ironwork created by freed slaves in New Orleans and Charleston in the 1800s.
- The museum includes a restaurant and several large exhibit rooms. Among the 40,000 objects owned by the museum are items from a sunken slave ship, a scarf given to Harriet Tubman by Queen Victoria, manacles used to enclose slaves’ hands and feet, Nat Turner’s bible, and a segregated drinking fountain.
- One of the most poignant items in the museum is called “Ashley’s Sack,” a hand-embroidered feed sack given to a 9-year-old slave girl by her mother when she was sold away.
- Some exhibits are sad and somewhat disturbing, portraying the “dark corners” of African American history and slavery.
- Other exhibits show the contributions, “spirituality, optimism, and joy” of African Americans. For example, garments designed by Ann Lowe, an African American clothing designer whose clients included the Roosevelts, Rockefellers, and Jacqueline Kennedy are included.
- A portion of Mae Reeve’s Philadelphia hat shop are displayed, along with Chuck Berry’s red Cadillac convertible and Muhammed Ali’s boxing gloves.
- Exterior: outside
- Inverted: turned upside down
- Slave ship: ship upon which slaves were brought to Europe and the Americas, often after being kidnapped and/or sold
Questions and Answers
Question: How many people visit the museum?
Answer: The museum opened in 2016 and attendance has gradually increased. About 2 million people visit annually now.
Visit the museum’s website to see exhibits.