This weekend on September 24, 2017, America is celebrating the first year
anniversary of the National Museum of African American History and Culture
(NMAAHC). A member of the Smithsonian Institution, the NMAAHC is located on the
National Mall and is the only national museum dedicated exclusively to documenting
African American life, history and culture. Lonnie Bunch III serves as the museum’s
Efforts to create the NMAAHC expands over 100 years. Veterans of the US
Colored Troops first conceptualized the museum, after having been mostly excluded
from the 50th anniversary Grand Review Parade celebrating the Union Troops.
Beginning in 1915, these veterans pushed for a museum honoring African American
contributions to America. Since that time, many individuals and groups continued their
efforts to create a museum over the decades. Beginning in 1988, US Congressman
John Lewis (D-GA 5th District) introduced bills annually to create a museum honoring
African Americans as a part of the Smithsonian Institution. Congressman Lewis’s
persistence finally paid off. His efforts led to Congress creating the NMAAHC Plan for
Action Presidential Commission in 2001, charged with developing a plan on how to
move forward with the creation of the museum. In 2003, Congress enacted the
NMAAHC Act, establishing the National Museum of African American History and
Culture within the Smithsonian Institution. President George W. Bush signed the
legislation into law. (For more detailed information about the history of the founding of
the NMAAHC read its Historical Origins and a timeline published by the Washington
From 2003 to 2016 an immense amount of energy went into creating the
museum—fundraising, architectural design, construction, collection of historical
artifacts, etc. Fundraising efforts were particularly noteworthy with many individuals,
groups, foundations and corporations across American contributing to its development.
Embracing its social responsibility, notably, Aflac, a Georgia corporation, became the
first corporation to make donation towards the construction of the museum, donating $1
million. The museum was completed in September 2016, becoming the final museum
to be built on the National Mall.
The site of the NMAAHC is absolutely remarkable! Its prime location on the southeast corner of Constitution Avenue and 15th Street makes the museum a cornerstone on the National Mall. To give you a perspective, the museum is located diagonally across the street from the White House and the Herbert C. Hoover Building—headquarters for the US Department of Commerce, and between the Washington Monument and the National Museum of American History. Its prime location and its completion during the Presidency of Barack Obama, America’s first
African American President, are testimonies to the faith, perseverance and resilience of
Last year my maternal grandmother, Izora Jones of Fort Worth, Texas, celebrated
her 90th birthday in September. A founding contributor to the museum, Grandmommy
expressed that her only birthday wish was to attend the grand opening celebration of
the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. Of all the things that my grandmother could have asked for, of course, she requested one
of the most difficult gifts to get! Tickets for the museum during opening weekend were a
coveted item, rare and precious jewels indeed! For, everyone sought to obtain tickets to
the NMAAHC during its opening weekend! Naturally, as a historian, I already had the
event on my calendar and planned to go; however, getting a ticket for one person is
much different than obtaining tickets for four—for Grandmommy, her two daughters (my
mother and her sister) and me.
Despite the difficulty, I moved forward with making plans. I reserved our hotel,
made flight arrangements, and prayed for tickets! Fueled by faith and determination, I
called everybody I knew who could potentially fulfill my grandmother’s desire. It is
amazing what faith combined with effort can do! (I learned from the ancestors!) In
September, three generations of women headed to DC for the opening celebration of
the museum with tickets in hand!!!
My grandmother, mother and I had a blast in DC! In fact, it was one of my
favorite trips ever! A six-day vacation, we took the city by storm, attempting to see all of the sites and sounds of DC! First of all, we participated in the bus tours, which we thoroughly enjoyed! The bus tour is a must-do activity, if you ever have some extra time
when you are visiting our nation’s capital. We visited multiple monuments and museums. We participated in “Freedom Sounds: A Community Celebration,” a three-day festival marking the opening of the NMAAHC. We attended the Opening Ceremonies featuring our President Barack Obama and watched our President,
America’s first African American President, dedicate the National Museum of African
American History and Culture to America and the world as the final major event of his
Presidency. What a historical moment!
The highlight of our trip was our visit the museum. During our vacation, my
grandmother revealed to my mother and me her membership card as a founding member of the NMAAHC. Ends up she carries the card in her purse everywhere. Grandmommy is so proud to be a founding contributor. The first thing she did when she entered the museum was to go look for her name on the wall of Founding Donors. It was not there, for the NMAAHC only recognized those who contributed over $1 million.
Despite that fact, Grandmommy proudly took a picture in front of that wall!
The museum is absolutely incredible, a national treasure! Its massive structure
and seven floors are dynamic. It is one of the most impressive museums that I have ever visited. I
must admit I was initially pessimistic, not quite convinced that the museum would
accurately articulate and reflect the African American experience. I thought that the
museum might attempt to sugarcoat or deny the historical realities of what it means to
live as a person of African descent in America. To my surprise and glee, the museum
impressively highlighted all aspects of African American history. In fact, there was an
admirable balance between tragedy and triumph. The breadth and scope of the
museum were vast, covering every historical error of African American history and
culture as well as highlighting African American institutions and individuals in every
sector and field. The museum is incredibly comprehensive. In fact, my family and I
spent three hours in the museum and still did not see everything!
In my opinion, the most stunning and impactful aspect of the museum was the
section that displayed and told the history of slavery in America. The layout, meticulous
design, captions, artifacts, and stories absolutely captivated me. The artifacts were especially impressive in that so many families preserved heirlooms from slavery. I commend everyone who donated their family treasures to the museum.
It is indeed a pleasure to celebrate the first year anniversary of the National
Museum of African American History and Culture. If you are ever in DC, you should
definitely make the time, take the time to visit the museum. The NMAAHC is not just for
African Americans. The museum is for all Americans and tells the American story.
For those of you who have visited the NMAAHC, what did you think about the
museum? What aspects stood out for you? With so many features, what were your
favorite parts of the museum? I would love for you to share your experience and
thoughts your experience.