Since opening in late September, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) has been a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. Located at 1400 Constitution Ave., NW, the building is the final museum to be placed on the National Mall. With more than 37,000 artifacts in the collection, the NMAAHC is chock full of American history and culture.
“Whenever I look at the museum, I don't simply see steel, glass and concrete” said NMAAHC founding director, Lonnie G. Bunch III, at the museum's dedication on September 24, 2016. “I feel the spirit and the strength of those who went before and upon whose shoulders we stand. It is those memories that breathe life into this building.” Indeed the museum was first proposed more than a century ago.“Today a dream too long deferred is a dream no longer,” Bunch said. “What a grand and glorious day to open a museum that will not just tell of a people's journey, but also of a nation's story.”
With exhibits spanning from the time of the American colonies to present day, there is plenty for the entire family. Must sees include a fully restored Tuskegee Institute airplane, a segregated-era train car c. 1920, Nat Turner's bible and Chuck Berry's 1973 cherry red El Dorado convertible. Exhibits which are not appropriate for children are noted in red on a placard before the artifact.
Visitors are encouraged to take an elevator to the basement to begin the journey in the colonial era, following ramps and stairs upward to modern times. Interspersed with themed exhibits, such as a large area devoted to the impact of African Americans on sports and a section on music, the artifacts are as varied as the visitors themselves.
“The story told here doesn't just belong to black Americans, it belongs to all Americans,” said President Barack Obama at the museum's dedication. “For the African-American experience has been shaped just as much by Europeans and Asians and Native Americans and Latinos. We have informed each other. We are polyglot, a stew.”
The NMAAHC has a free mobile app available on their website which features exhibition stories, content for families with children, augmented reality and more. The app allows visitors to get a more immersive experience during their time at the NMAAHC.
The museum's restaurant, Sweet Home Cafe, also comes with its own story, history and African-American influence. With four main food stations spanning different time periods and regions of the country, there is a wide variety from which to choose. (There are also the classic standbys of hot dogs, french fries and pizza slices available).
Local celebrity chef and talk show host, Carla Hall, serves as the culinary ambassador to the NMAAHC and couldn't be more proud to be involved. “My role is to get people excited about this and being a resident of D.C. myself, this is so incredible,” she says. “But the credit really goes to executive chef Jerome Grant and just so many others. I could go on and on about all of the wonderful people who have made this project happen. And I just feel a great swell of pride being here. It's really very emotional and rewarding.”
“This national museum helps to tell a richer and fuller story of who we are,” Obama said. “It reaffirms that all of us are American – that African-American history is not somehow separate from our larger American story, it's not the underside of the American story, it is central to the American story.”
Visiting the museum is free, but tickets are required. Beginning February 1, tickets for May will be available online at etix.com or by calling 1-844-750-3012. Some same day tickets are available online, beginning at 6:00 a.m. There is no on-site parking; officials recommend taking public transportation when possible. All visitors must pass through security. For more information visit nmaahc.si.edu.
Great Books about African American History for Children
“How to Build a Museum: Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture” by Tonya Bolden, Viking Books for Young Readers, 2016, $17.99
Celebrating the opening of the new Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, Tonya Bolden's new book chronicles the building of the NMAAHC from the original idea nearly 100 years ago to opening day in September of 2016. Find information about the exhibits, the people involved in the building of the museum and even how the unique design of the building came to be. This information-packed book features pictures, architectural plans, quotes and more to make a great addition to any home library. Best for ages 10 and up.
“Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March” by Lynda Blackmon Lowery as told to Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckley, Illustrated by PJ Loughran , Dial Books, 2016, $9.99
In the spring of 1965, Lynda Blackmon Lowery was the youngest participant in the voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Jailed nine times before she even turned 15, Lowery marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil right leaders in her bid to bring equality to all. Told in straightforward prose and interspersed with full-page drawings and photographs, this book is a wonderful learning tool for children interested in knowing more about the civil rights era. Best for ages 7 and up.
“Trombone Shorty”by Troy Andrews, Illustrated by Brian Collier , Harry N. Abrams, 2015 $17.95
Troy Andrews tells his story as the sensational musician, “Trombone Shorty” in this wonderful book about his life and love of music. From a young age, Troy loved the way music made him feel and made him move. One day he found a battered old trombone on a street in New Orleans, picked it up and was transformed by the sounds it made. Follow “Trombone Shorty” on his adventures through sound and life in New Orleans and beyond. Accompanied by beautiful watercolor and pen-and-ink illustrations by Bryan Collier, your music lover will be ready to join the band in no time at all. Best for ages 3 and up.