The National Museum of African American History & Culture

I took a day trip to Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC.

The Heritage Hall (L1), which features the information desk and the museum store, is the street-level main floor to the museum. You're treated with huge windows and amazing architecture upon entrance. 

Start off by going downstairs to the Concourse level. That's where you'll find the Oprah Winfrey theater, Sweet Home Cafe, and the entrance to the History Galleries. 

The theater was closed so I didn't get a chance to look inside. Right next door was "Sweet Home Cafe." With a menu that features amazing soul food dishes from different regions of the country, I was dying to try the food but I didn't have time. The restaurant is dine-in only and I had too much to see before heading back to the airport so I headed straight to the History Galleries. 

The information desk receptionist recommended I start at the lowest level and work my way up to follow the timeline and I did so. "Slavery and Freedom 1400-1877" (C3) was the beginning of my journey.

Upon entrance, you quickly begin your experience by looking at artifacts and stories of Africa and Europe while beginning to learn more about the transatlantic slave trade, the slaves' experiences and the personal issues they faced being transported.

"I was brought from a state of innocence and freedom, and in a barbarous and cruel manner, conveyed to a state of horror and slavery." - Ottobah Cugoano

As you continue through the exhibition, you go further down the timeline of slavery with the revolutionary war and the way of life of slaves in America, highlighting that liberty and justice was not for all and the paradox they faced. 

There were stories and personal items owned by well known former slaves including Harriet Tubman and Nate Parker. Some pieces by lesser known, but equally important, people told their own stories.

A slave cabin from Point of Pines Plantation in S.C.

The "Slavery and Freedom" era finishes with the civil war and emancipation then continues on to "Defending Freedom, Defining Freedom: The Era of Segregation 1876-1968" (C2).

This floor starts off showing a freedom house, explaining the Jim Crow era, and showing different types of segregations blacks in America had to face. There's even an interactive lunch counter showing the preparations for (and consequences of) sit-ins as well as stools from the famous Greensboro incident.  

The thing that hit me the hardest in this museum was on this floor, the Emmitt Till Memorial. 

Out of respect for his family and at their request, there was no photography allowed in this part of the museum. The memorial holds the original casket encasing the graphic photo of Emmitt Till published by Jet Magazine and is set up as though you are at his memorial service. There's also a short video playing as well as personal family photos. It's a heart wrenching experience.

A segregated train car

After finishing exploring the segregation era, I walked up to the next area, "A Changing America: 1968 and Beyond" (C1).

This floor explored the events and movements of 1968 and the fight for justice, including the Black Panther Party.

They also explored changes throughout the cities and suburbs and how they dealt with the integration of blacks. 

Whites were given guidebooks on how to co-exist with Blacks.

Last but not least, you journey through the remaining decades and see how blacks have progressed in America. There are displays of powerful blacks and their stories including media mogul Oprah and ending of with our first Black president, Barack Obama. 

After being proud of how far we've come, I made my way back upstairs to the concourse level for a quick recharge then took the grand staircase back up to the Heritage Hall (L1) so I could tackle the upstairs exhibitions. 

The second floor (L2), is the museum's "Explore More" area. This features a center for African American media arts, classrooms, an appointment library and an interactive gallery. There's also a genealogy center set to open January 2017 with a corresponding mobile app, where you'll be able to explore your family's history. For more information about that, visit the NMAAHC website.

The next level up (L3) is the Community Galleries. 

This area displays African Americans' struggles and excellence in various areas of life, from religion to sports, even in the military. You get the details on how they dealt with discrimination and overcame those and other obstacles to become greats. 

Finally, I made my way up to the Culture Galleries (L4). This may have been my favorite floor. 

This floor explores and exudes black culture, further exposing our individuality and excellence. The taking the stage area displays the great African American broadway plays, television shows and films while the musical crossroads area plays our popular music, explores our exclusive genres and celebrates the icons.

The part I adored most was the cultural expressions because it displayed many of the unique things we say and do that make us, US. In the words of Solange Knowles "Some sh*t you can't touch." 

In the Culture Galleries, there was also a visual arts area with paintings and sculptures by amazing Black artists. My favorite was "Blue Feather" by George Coates. 

I wish I could've gotten more in depth with the art and gotten pictures but, I had to leave to make my flight. The Washington City Paper did a great story on the visual art portion of the Culture Galleries if you want to know more. 

My visit to the National Museum of African American History & Culture was definitely well worth it. Three hours was not enough and I definitely want to go back to take my time after the initial opening rush dies down in a few months, maybe even before then. It's a must-visit so make sure you sign up to find out when tickets open up and go for as early as possible so you can take your time. I know I will, I'm not missing out on that food again. (NMAAHC

Til next time,


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