The Smithsonian’s newest museum in Washington, DC is one of my favorites. I believe the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) should be visited by everyone. Why? African Americans made major contributions to American society but they have long been overlooked. While, there are many museums across the nation that help give our collective experiences of being black in America a voice, none have come close to showing such a rich and broad perspective as well as the NMAAHC.
There really is so much to take in and see at the NMAAHC. Is it worth a trip to DC just to visit the museum? Absolutely. The exhibits that stand out to me the most are below.
Each floor of the NMAAHC tells a different story. My recommendation (if you have children with you) is to start at the top floor and work your way down. The top levels reveal the modern accomplishments of African Americans that most people will be able to recognize. The upper floors are more colorful and interactive for children as well.
If you don’t have children with you, then you should start your museum adventure at the bottom where the journey begins with a snippet of African history that leads to slavery, and then freedom. When I first took my daughters, we started on the bottom floor and seeing the slave cabin and images from the transatlantic slave trade it was hard to keep them engaged. However, if you are by yourself or with a group of adults, you can observe and let the exhibits tell their unique stories without distractions. Take in the words and reflections on the wall and walk from complete devastation to the upper floors where black people have truly overcome some of the greatest obstacles on earth. The first floor is a solemn experience that is incomparable when you see a replica of Harriet Tubman’s silk shawl. Then listen to the films to discuss the civil war.
Next, the Jim Crow Era is packed with both sadness and pride. This level was the hardest for me because it is also the level where Emmett Till’s casket and Memorial are. This is a quiet area where many people get emotional.
Surprisingly, my favorite parts of the museum are the entertainment section and the sports areas. Especially, if museums aren’t your thing because this museum is completely different. You’re not looking at lots of pretentious paintings and sculptures; instead, many items are donated artifacts that celebrate black culture and history. And the entertainment section has real items like Chuck Berry’s red Cadillac Eldorado. There are full costumes from the Wiz and rare photos of great African-American performers like jazz singer Helen Humes. The best part is that visiting the museum truly feels like our story and no one else’s. It’s a museum that is well done and we can take pride in it.
Lastly, I want to caution you because the museum is huge, there is a lovely art gallery and so much to see you probably won’t see everything in just one visit. So if you’re going or planning on a weekend trip, try to visit more than once.
Enclosed below are some activities that you can print out for your next visit to the NMAAHC.
National Museum of African American History & Culture
1400 Constitution Ave NW
Washington, DC 20560