Museum of African American History & Culture

1400 Constitution Ave NW Washington

Must-See Museums in Washington D.C./Museum of African American History & Culture
VAMONDE Washington D.C.
Written By VAMONDE Washington D.C.

National Museum of African American History and Culture

The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) is a Smithsonian Institution museum located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It was established in December 2003 and opened on September 2016 in a ceremony led by President Barack Obama.

Early efforts to establish a federally owned museum featuring African-American history and culture can be traced to 1915, although the modern push for such an organization did not begin until the 1970s. After years of little success, a much more serious legislative push began in 1988 that led to the authorization of the museum in 2003. A site was selected in 2006, and a design submitted by Freelon Group/Adjaye Associates/Davis Brody Bond was chosen in 2009. Construction began in 2012 and the museum was finally completed in 2016.

The NMAAHC proved immediately popular, ranking as the fourth most-visited Smithsonian museum in its first full year of operation. The museum has more than 40,000 objects in its collection, although only about 3,500 items are on display. The 10 story building (five above and five below ground) and its exhibits have won critical praise.

Groundbreaking

The museum's groundbreaking ceremony took place on February 22, 2012. President Barack Obama and museum director Bunch were among the speakers at the ceremony. Actress Phylicia Rashād was the Master of Ceremonies for the event, which also featured poetry and music performed by Denyce Graves, Thomas Hampson, and the Heritage Signature Chorale.

FUN FACT: As the lower levels were completed, cranes installed a segregated railroad passenger car and a guard tower from the Louisiana State Penitentiary on November 17, 2013. These items were so large that they could not be dismantled and installed at a later date. Instead, the museum had to be built around them.

Opening Ceremony

On September 24, 2016, President Barack Obama formally opened the new museum along with four generations of the Bonner family, from 99-year-old Ruth Bonner to Ruth's great-granddaughter Christine. Together with the Obamas, Ruth and her family rang the Freedom Bell (rather than cut a ribbon) to officially open the museum. The bell came from the First Baptist church organized by and for African Americans, founded in 1776 in Williamsburg, Virginia, where at the time it was unlawful for blacks to congregate or preach. During his speech at the museum's opening, Obama shed tears discussing his thoughts on visiting the museum with future grandchildren. More than 600,000 people visited the museum in its first three months.

After six months, 1.2 million people had visited the NMAAHC, making it one of the four most-visited Smithsonian museums. Patrons spent an average of six hours at the museum; twice as long as had been estimated before the museum's opening. The exhibits start with the Middle Passage and slavery where the hallway is intentionally designed to be cramped and somewhat claustrophobic.

Notable Items in the Collection

- Several items from the São José Paquete Africa, a sunken slave ship excavated off the coast of South Africa in 2015. - Ashley's Sack, a mid-1800s hand-embroidered feedsack gifted from a slave mother, Rose, to her nine-year-old daughter, Ashley, when Ashley was sold away.

- Garments worn by African-American slaves. - A railroad car from Chattanooga, Tennessee, used by African-American passengers during the Jim Crow era. - A segregated drinking fountain from the Jim Crow era with the sign "colored" (indicating it was for use by blacks only). - A guard tower and cell from the Louisiana State Penitentiary (Angola) known for much of the 20th century as a cruel, violence-prone, squalid prison where African American inmates were treated worse than slaves. - The glass-topped casket originally used to display and bury the body of 14-year-old Emmett Till, the victim of racially motivated torture and murder in Mississippi. Till's death served as a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement.

- The dress which Rosa Parks was sewing the day she refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, on December 1, 1955. Parks' action sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and her action was one of the first incidents of civil disobedience in the Civil Rights Movement. - Muhammad Ali's boxing gloves - A cape and jumpsuit owned by American soul singer James Brown.

-Gymnastic equipment used by artistic gymnastics champion Gabby Douglas at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Douglas was the first African American, and first non-Caucasian of any nationality, to win the women's artistic individual all-around gold medal. She was also the first American gymnast ever to win both the team and individual all-around gold at the same Olympics. - President Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign office from Falls Church, Virginia.

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Museum of African American History & Culture

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