Long-Awaited Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture Opens

WEBN Staff / Annette Choi
WEBN Staff / Annette Choi

WEBN Staff / Annette Choi

By Annette Choi 10/2/2016
The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture opened its doors to the public on Sept. 24 2016, over 100 years since the museum was originally proposed.

The grand ceremony preceding the opening was a three-day affair including musical performances and spoken word.

President Obama helped to inaugurate the national museum saying in his speech that, “too often we ignored or forgot the stories of millions upon millions of others who built this nation just as surely.” He said, “This national museum helps to tell a richer and fuller story of who we are…By knowing this other story we better understand ourselves and each other.”

The weekend of celebration featured several other speakers including Oprah Winfrey, Will Smith, and Representative John Lewis, who fought with Congress for 15 years to make the museum a reality.

Former President George W. Bush also made an appearance, as he had approved legislation to establish the museum in 2003. The shape of the museum is that of a traditional Yoruban crown. It is a looming three-story, 400,000 square foot building covered in a bronze-colored cast-aluminum.

The bronze exterior contrasts with many of the surrounding lighter-colored monuments, serving as a reminder of a darker past. The museum is broken up by galleries titled, “From Slavery to Emancipation,” “From Segregation to Today” and “Community and Culture.” The lower floors display significant objects such as auction blocks, shackles, and a Ku Klux Klan hood, focusing on the history of trans-Atlantic slavery. The museum dedicates a room to Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American teenager who was brutally lynched in Mississippi in 1955. His original coffin is displayed in the room. A “whites only” door and segregated rail car are also included in the “From Segregation to Today” galleries.

Floors three and four feature the “Community and Culture” galleries that celebrate the many achievements of the African American community. Here, various objects including Muhammad Ali’s boxing gloves, Jackie Robinson’s bat, and Louis Armstrong’s trumpet can be found.

On the fourth floor, an imitative “record store” and interactive tables allow individuals to learn more about the various genres that have been influenced by African-American musicians.

Exiting the museum with cheerful smile and gift shop bag in her hand was Daniella Hutcherson, who had driven down from Pennsylvania with her mother for the visit.

While Hutcherson said the museum fully lived up to her expectations, the bustling crowds prevented her from experiencing the exhibits in their entirety. Hutcherson said, “We did [look around] the bottom floor a little bit, but the line is extremely long…It would probably take you all day just waiting in that line.”

Like many others, Hutcherson also found the fourth floor to be the most fascinating. “I really liked the music and art on the fourth floor. That was my favorite part,” she said, “You can play different genres, different years.” The museum also offers dining options including the Sweet Home Café, which serves authentic dishes from “The Agricultural South,” “The Creol Coast,” “The North States” and “The Western Range.” Hutcherson highly recommends the café. “[It was] really good. I had the gumbo with crawfish in it.” Pointing to her mother, she said, “She had the buttermilk fried chicken with mac and cheese and collard greens and cornbread.”

Tickets for the museum are sold out until the end of the year. Advanced timed-passes for 2017 will be available through the Smithsonian website starting Monday, Oct. 3 2016.