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National Museum of African American History and Culture

American Place: National Museum of African American History

By Rasheeda Smith
August 2017 • American History Magazine

Finely Wrought: Silk and linen shawl given to Harriet Tubman by Queen Victoria of England. (Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture)

Washington, DC…

…home to many museums, now has one honoring the African diaspora. Hailing countless efforts to save and share black history, President Barack Obama dedicated the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in 2016. The 37,000 exhibits, some of them objects families preserved for generations, demand multiple return visits. Artifacts marking famed, obscure, and ignored contributions evoke nostalgia and pride. The record of lives lost to and broken by injustice kindles anger and sadness. The layout is epic. Lead architect David Adjaye’s structure suggests Yoruba crowns from Ghana, his homeland. Inside, a glass-walled elevator descends to the 1400s, when the African slave trade began. The ensuing climb implies African Americans’ ascent toward equality and showcases their myriad achievements. Upper floors focus on the modern, from breakthroughs in art, science, and technology to dance steps. The final display features Obama’s 2009 inauguration—a guidepost to progress and the miles of work ahead. ✯

This column was originally published in the August 2017 issue of American History magazine. Subscribe here.

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