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National Museum of African American History and Culture

AfAmMuseumThis week, I had the extraordinary privilege of visiting the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. Visiting the newest Smithsonian Museum has been on my bucket list ever since it opened in September, 2016.  It’s been dubbed one of the “hottest tickets in DC,” so I had my fingers crossed that we’d be able to get in during our December trip to DC. Thankfully, the ticket gods were on our side.

You can try to request tickets online three months in advance, but these go quick.  Your other option is to go for “Same-day tickets,” which means setting your alarm for 6:30am and hopping online to try to score one that way.  This worked for us, but we were also attempting to go on a Tuesday, which has lower crowds than a weekend. Try to visit mid-week if you can.

During the week, the museum is open from 10am – 5:30pm. Admission is free. We signed up for a 12:30pm entry pass, and were actually able to see everything (and have lunch) in 5+ hours.  However, if you can swing it, I recommend breaking up the visit into two days.  There is so much to see, and so much to digest, and if you don’t have the stamina to walk and stand for pretty much five hours straight, you won’t be able to see/read/view everything.

The museum is divided into two main sections, the Concourse level History galleries, and the Community and Cultural galleries on the upper floors.  I recommend starting with the History galleries. You take an elevator to the ground floor of the building, which is really like stepping into a time machine.  As you exit, the first set of exhibits take you through the slavery era, from the beginning of the slave trade to the Civil war and Reconstruction. The exhibits flow in chronological order, with plenty of multimedia (short videos, interactive exhibits), so the whole experience really is one huge history lesson. They did such a fantastic job organizing all this material.

MLKThe second floor of the History galleries is dedicated to the era of Segregation and the Civil Rights/Black Power Movements. So much to absorb, process, and reflect upon. This was the most emotional floor for me, hands down.  The Emmitt Till exhibit had me so overwhelmed I had to leave and cry out in the hallway by myself. None of this was new information to me, but being reminded of it, and seeing the imagery and testimony, all in one place, all at once – totally overwhelming.  It makes me so angry to think about how Black folks have been treated in this country, the unspeakable horrors and injustices our ancestors had to endure. And then this overwhelming sense of gratitude for every single person who marched, sat down, stood up, rioted and died so that I could have a better life.

Things lightened up (thankfully) on the 3rd floor, as we moved through the highs and lows of the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s, culminating with an exhibit dedicated to the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama.  I can’t even tell you how powerful it is to revisit all the pain and suffering that makes up the legacy of African-Americans in the United States, and get to end that journey with the swearing in our country’s first Black President.  More tears when I got to this point (after shedding some at an exhibit that featured Tupac).

BlackIsBeautiful

ContemplationRoomWith so much to process, we stepped into the Contemplation room, which is a gorgeous space created for quiet reflection. If we’d had more time, I could have easily spent an hour in here thinking and writing. But we still had three floors to explore and only 2.5 hours to do it in.

Before heading up to the Community/Cultural galleries, we stopped at Sweet Home Café to eat.  The food, though expensive, was really great.  All the food selections had some relevance or ties to African-American culture.  You could get fried chicken or BBQ or Shrimp and Grits or Gumbo (just a sampling of the menu – they had many other options). Tasted fantastic.  But couldn’t afford to linger too long cause there was still much to see…

Upstairs are the Community/Culture galleries, which are pretty awesome, too.  Here you’ll find exhibits dedicated to Blacks in the Military, Black Entrepreneurs, African-Americans in Sports and an entire floor dedicated to our contributions in the Arts – Literature, Music, Dance, Theater, Television and Film. What was most impressive is how inclusive it was.  Everyone you would expect to see was represented, and no one person or era was given more prominence than the other.  My heart swelled with pride as I took it all in.

HipHop

They did such a fantastic job designing and curating this museum – it is truly a masterpiece. I highly recommend making a trip to DC to see it with your own eyes. For a sneak peak, check out some of the photos I took of my favorite exhibits.

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