A peek inside the National Museum of African American History

World Today

aam_previewAn outside view of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC on September 14, 2016.

When the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) opens its doors to the public on September 24, it will signal the end of a hard-fought journey. More than a century in the making, the Smithsonian Institution will inaugurate a distinctive building unlike any other on Washington D.C.’s National mall.

After its reveal, it will become the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African-American history and culture in the United States. President Barack Obama will speak at its opening ceremony.

Lonnie G. Bunch III, the founding director of the museum, recalled in front of a pool of journalists at the media preview day Wednesday how the creation of the museum started.

“It’s hard for me to believe, but eleven years ago, we really did start this with a staff of two, with no collections at all, and we really had no idea where the site of the museum would be,” said Bunch. “We knew we had to raise a lot of money, but we didn’t know where to get that money from.”

The museum has amassed nearly 37,000 artifacts, some of which remind visitors of the haunting history of slavery, segregation, and the long road to freedom. They range from a segregated railway car from the 1920s to a red Kleagle Klu Klux Klan robe and slave shackles.

But African American history extends beyond racial tension. The museum honors iconic artists and literary figures from Whitney Houston, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin and Ella Fitzgerald.

The building’s three-tiered bronze crown design stands out among its neo-classical neighboring structures. The corona, or its crown-like shape, is inspired by Yoruba art in West Africa. Its bronze color is a tribute to filigree ironwork by enslaved craftsmen from South Carolina, Louisiana and other states.

David Adjaye, a Ghanaian-British, is the lead designer behind the 400,000 square-foot building, which sits across the Washington Monument.

Visitors can start their tour 25 meters below ground to learn about the trans-Atlantic slave trade. But as they journey their way up, they are transported into different eras and encounter iconic artists, athletes, musicians.

The NMAAHC will not only tell a story of the past – it will continue to document the lives of African-Americans today. Some of the artifacts will touch on the subject of police brutality against unarmed, mostly black men.

Mary Elliott, one of the co-curators at NMAAHC, talks about her role in the Slavery and Freedom gallery.

Meet the woman who went topless to raise awareness about how breast cancer affects African-American women.

African Americans reflect on the historic opening ceremony of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.