More than 100 years in the making, the National Museum of African American History and Culture will finally open its doors on Saturday, September 24. “The only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history and culture,” the NMAAHC is the latest and 19th addition to the Smithsonian Institute’s family.
The NMAAHC boasts an extensive collection of nearly 37,000 civil rights, music, photography, literature, and slavery-related items, as well as pieces in a host of other categories. The museum will have a dedication ceremony the day of its opening, which will be live-streamed at nmaahc.si.edu. Due to overwhelming demand (more than 28,000 tickets were claimed for opening weekend alone), the museum is already considering expanding its regular hours of 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. to accommodate visitors. Read on for everything you need to know about Washington, D.C.’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Lead architect Philip Freelon and lead designer David Adjaye, along with their architectural team Freelon Adjaye Bond/Smith Group, won an international competition to design the NMAAHC building, which sits on a five-acre site. The bronze-colored building, shaped in three tiers, reportedly resembles crowns used in Yoruba art. Its metallic color also pays homage to the iron work crafted by men and women enslaved in Louisiana and South Carolina.
Some of the museum’s many donors include The Oprah Winfrey Charitable Foundation, which contributed more than $20 million, The Rhimes Family Foundation (as in Shonda), which donated $10 million or more, as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and $5 million donations from both Michael Jordan and Robert L. Johnson.
Lonnie G. Bunch III is the founding director of the NMAAHC. He was appointed the role in July 2005 and since then has been developing exhibitions and public programs, raising funds and, ultimately, identifying the museum’s mission.
The nearly 37,000 objects and items on display in the museum are from 1750 to present day.
Writer and director extraordinaire Ava DuVernay created a film exclusively for the museum with an all-Black team both in front of and behind the camera, which highlights the date of August 28. On that date in different years, many events occurred that tell the story of Black American history, including Emmett Till’s murder, the March on Washington Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, the day that Hurricane Katrina made landfall, and the day that then-Senator Barack Obama accepted the Democratic party’s POTUS nomination.
The museum’s first exhibition was selected in 2007. Titled “Let Your Motto Be Resistance,” the collection of portraits surrounding the theme of resistance, chosen by photographer and historian Deborah Willis, was on display at the National Portrait Gallery.
Sweet Home Café
Located in the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Sweet Home Café will feature foods from four different regions in the U.S. Initially named North Star Café, owners of a trademarked restaurant chain of the same name in Columbus, Ohio weren’t willing to part with the name. Thus, Sweet Home was birthed.
Carla Hall will serve as the consulting chef and the cafe is jointly operated by Thompson Hospitality, the nation’s largest minority-owned food service company, and Restaurant Associates, which runs other eateries at Smithsonian museums.
The NMAAHC houses 11 galleries: Slavery and Freedom (covering just up to Reconstruction); Defining Freedom, Defending Freedom (post-reconstruction through the Civil Rights Act); A Changing America:1968 and Beyond, and Double Victory (military); Leveling the Playing Field (sports); Power of Place (regionalism); Making a Way Out of No Way (formal and informal institutions and organizations), Musical Crossroads; Visual Arts Gallery; Cultural Expressions, and Taking the Stage (theater, film and television).
Taking the Stage
Some of the items on display in this exhibit include the Tin Man’s hat from the original Broadway production of The Wiz, and Michael Jackson’s “Victory Tour” era sequined shirts and signature black fedora, to name a few.
The Tubman Collection
Nearly 40 Harriet Tubman artifacts are housed at NMAAHC, including her book of gospel hymns, a lace shawl she received from Queen Victoria, a framed portrait, and photographs from her 1913 funeral.