After decades of planning, politicking, constructing and curating, The National Museum of African American History and Culture opened to the public on September 24, 2016. Over 3 years later, millions of patrons have flooded the National Mall location to partake in the worlds largest collection of African American history and culture under one roof.
Lonnie Bunch, founding director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture has created an inviting yet educational journey through history. Exhibits are designed to take visitors through African-American history in the US: from slavery, on the lower level, to a reproduction of Oprah Winfrey’s television set upstairs and artifacts from Obama’s first presidential campaign.
The nearly 400,000-square-foot museum was created in 2003 by an act of Congress, establishing it as part of the Smithsonian.
The museum has about 3,000 objects on display from its collection of nearly 37,000.
- Harriet Tubman collection, including her hymnal (c. 1876); lace shawl (c. 1897), given to her by Queen Victoria; and family photographs from her funeral
- Jim Crow railroad car (c. 1920)
- Chuck Berry’s red Cadillac convertible (c. 1973)
- Black Fashion Museum Collection (about 1,000 items)
- Tuskegee Airmen Trainer Plane, an open-cockpit PT-13 Stearman (c. 1942) used to prepare Tuskegee Airmen for World War II combat duty
- Works of art by Charles Alston, John Biggers, Elizabeth Catlett, Jacob Lawrence, Lorna Simpson, Romare Bearden, Archibald John Motley Jr., Henry O. Tanner and Frederick C. Flemister
- Emmett Till’s casket (c. 1955)—the glass-topped co n that held the body of 14-year-old Emmett Till, whose murder in Mississippi helped galvanize the civil rights movement
- Slave cabin from Edisto Island, S.C. (c. 1800–50)
The incredibly popular museum “has become a pilgrimage for generations to understand not only their own history but how history shaped prior generations,” said Bunch. Exploring that history, no matter how painful, is important, he said, noting that addressing topics such as lynching are crucial. The museum’s straightforward, nonjudgmental approach, he said, allows “people to be comfortable to be able to explore things that are often uncomfortable.”
The road to build the museum that it is today was not an easy feat. While Congress passed the act in 2003 there was no designated home for the museum. Once the National Mall location was solidi ed then came the hard work. The museum was initially to be only one floor but the vision was expanded to a multi-tiered concept. This meant the foundation needed to be redesigned. That new foundation was under water. Engineers from the Netherlands were brought in to “get rid of the water” and that they did.
Total cost for construction and installation of the museums exhibitions was $540 million, one-half funded by federal funds and the remainder by the Smithsonian. Memberships starting at $25 are available to help continue the preservation of African American History and Culture.
To learn more about The National Museum of African American History and Culture, visit nmaahc.si.edu.