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Visiting the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
Discover rich and essential African American history in the newest Smithsonian museum
The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture is located at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue NW on the National Mall. The four-level museum opened on Sept. 24, 2016, becoming the only national museum solely dedicated to the documentation of African American life, history and culture. The Smithsonian Institution’s 19th museum is also an architectural marvel and features numerous interactive exhibits.
Admission to the museum is free, but has been in extremely high demand since the facility opened its doors. Timed passes are required to enter. Same-day passes (up to four) are available online beginning at 6:30 a.m. until they run out, while walk-up passes (one per person) are available at 1 p.m. on weekdays. Advance timed entry passes are released monthly. For full details, please visit this page.
The museum is open every day of the year except Dec. 25. Its hours are 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. The easiest way to get there is via Metrorail or the DC Circulator. The closest Metro stop is Federal Triangle on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines. The DC Circulator’s National Mall route is your best bus option, and it will be easy to continue your exploration of the National Mall afterwards. The facility is handicap-accessible.
The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) is a state-of-the-art building that addresses nearly every aspect of the African American experience, covering the arts, slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, athletics and much more. The building’s exterior, conceived by Ghanaian-born architect David Adjaye, is artfully made up of a three-tiered, bronze-colored screen. This lattice pays tribute to the intricate ironwork forged by enslaved African Americans in the southern United States.
The museum’s collection of artifacts is astounding: 3,500 are on view, with another 35,000 or so in the collection. Standout items include a shawl given to Harriet Tubman by Queen Victoria, training aircraft used by the Tuskegee Institute, an invitation to President Obama’s 2009 inauguration and a boombox owned by Chuck D of Public Enemy.
Navigating the entirety of the NMAAHC would be very difficult to accomplish in one visit, and the breadth of its exhibits is astonishing. However, there are several displays that you should be aware of before you go.
Through the African American Lens showcases African American pioneers in many walks of life, from musicians to athletes to pilots to public figures. The exhibit has three sections: history, culture and community. Each features a collection of artifacts that highlight how these individuals not only advanced the stature of African Americans, but society in general.
Speaking of musicians: the Musical Crossroads exhibit details the history African American music, from the arrival of the first Africans to today. From jazz to hip-hop, African American musicians brought forth new forms of expression that lit a candle for liberty, justice and change. You will be able to experience the emergence of some of America’s finest art forms and the amazing creative expressions that came from them.
Slavery and Freedom uses first-person accounts and striking historical artifacts to tell an incredibly complicated tale. The exhibit traces slavery from 15th century Africa and Europe to the Civil War and Reconstruction in the United States. This vital history emphasizes that American slavery and freedom are deeply intertwined, and that the story of slavery is in fact a shared one that resides at the core of American politics, economics and daily life to this very day.
Continue your dive into history with Defending Freedom, Defining Freedom and A Changing America. The former covers the era of segregation and the onset of the Civil Rights Movement, highlighting the struggle that African Americans faced and conquered in establishing a cultural identity and their own communities, changing the nation along the way. The latter goes from 1968 until today, covering the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. to Barack Obama’s two terms as president, journeying from the Black Panthers to #BlackLivesMatter.
NMAAHC frequently hosts public tours, concerts, readings and film screenings. Check the museum’s calendar as you plan your visit.
There are so many Smithsonian Museums in Washington, DC covering topics from American history to Asian art, discover them here.