- When it opened in September 2016, the museum topped the 1 million mark in visitors in just over four months, breaking all records for any of the museums in the Smithsonian system.
- The length of time a visitor stays in this museum averages six hours or more, compared to 75 minutes to two hours for most museums.
- The site for the museum was selected in 2006 and the museum opened Sept. 24, 2016, in a ceremony led by President Barack Obama.
When it was being planned in 2006 the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture was sited along Constitution Ave, NW, on the expansive grounds surrounding the Washington Monument. Over the years this wonderful parcel of land- central to all of downtown Washington, DC, had been considered for several other important Federal buildings, but the unique ten-story design of this museum made it a perfect fit.
Fast forward to today … as you walk through this newest Smithsonian Museum, opened by President Barak Obama in 2016, you will see stunning views of the Washington Monument. Taken together the National Museum of African American History and Culture plus the Washington Monument seem to change the center of gravity of the National Mall. These two structures, one on either side of 15th St. NW, are iconic, unique and completely identifiable with the Federal City – a stunning mid-point to the National Mall.
One of the secrets to the success of the new NMAAHC museum is that 5 floors are below-ground and 5 floors are above-ground – two museums in one, the lower levels are for History and the upper levels are for Culture. With ten floors – many more floors than in any other Smithsonian on the Mall – architects could create hundreds of thousands of square feet of displays and utilize the concept of moving from darkness to light. From the Mall-level lobby visitors are moved to the lowest level via large elevators to start with the history of slavery during Biblical times then on to the artifacts, stories and illustrations about the lives of enslaved people in our country. These are the dark, disturbing exhibits.
Then gradually you make your way up gently rising paths, past slave ships, an actual plantation cabin from South Carolina, a Jim Crow-era Pullman railroad car, as well as a guard tower from Angola Penitentiary. The somber mood gradually shifts and you’ll slowly realize there is natural light on your path and up ahead a plane is hanging many feet above – a restored World War II-era PT-13 Stearman biplane, of Tuskegee Airmen fame.
The early gains of the Civil Rights Movement are showcased as you approach the mid-level of the building where the very popular Down Home Café is located. Then it’s up again by escalator or elevators to the upper floors where there’s plenty of natural light and a celebration of Black Culture focused on art, show business and sports. Oprah Winfrey has donated not only the sets from her shows and her own wardrobes but also millions upon millions of dollars.
On the upper floors you’ll discover Chuck Berry’s red Cadillac Eldorado, and Kobe Bryant’s jerseys. Bryant’s foundation donated $1,000,000 to the museum and he was active in urging his followers to get to the museum and learn Black History. There are statues of Jackie Robinson sliding into home plate, Michael Jordan hitting a fadeaway jump shot and Serena and Venus Williams in a doubles match … a gallery is dedicated to the first inauguration of Barrack Obama.
Even in its earliest days, this powerhouse museum required free time-stamped tickets and we expect when it reopens on May 14, 2021 after the Covid shutdown the tickets will be just as hot… But plan ahead, go to the website and get your tickets NOW. This is one not to be missed!
The Museums address is 1400 Constitution Ave NW. Cross streets are 14th Street, 15th Street and Madison Drive.
It is about a half a mile walk from both the Federal Triangle and Smithsonian Metro Stations. Both of those Metro Stations are on the Orange, Silver and Blue Metro lines.
Items owned by Harriet Tubman, including eating utensils, a hymnal, and a linen and silk shawl given to her by Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom.
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 1950s and ’60s African American Civil Rights Movement.
A Selmer trumpet owned by jazz musician Louis Armstrong.
A dress owned by actress and singer Pearl Bailey.
A cape and jumpsuit owned by American soul singer James Brown.
A railroad car from Chattanooga, Tennessee, used by African-American passengers during the Jim Crow era. Pete Claussen and Gulf & Ohio Railways (the company he founded in 1985) donated more than $222,000 to restore the car, which was built by the Pullman Company in 1922.
A sign from a bus in Nashville, Tennessee, from the Jim Crow era which indicates which seating is for blacks only.
A segregated drinking fountain from the Jim Crow era with the sign “colored” (indicating it was for use by blacks only).
A badge from 1850, worn by an African American in Charleston, South Carolina, indicating the wearer was a slave.
Feet and wrist manacles from the American Deep South used prior to 1860.
Garments worn by African-American slaves.
An 1874 home from Poolesville, Maryland. The dwelling was constructed by the Jones family, who were freed slaves. The Joneses later founded an all-black community nearby.