The same way you can’t not notice this building, you can’t not be moved by the collection. The National Museum of African American History and Culture feels like a sacred space. A Sunday school dedicated to celebrating the richness and diversity, as well as educating and preserving the hard truths, of the African American experience.
I visited the museum on the day they re-opened after their pandemic-related hiatus. There was no line, so I walked right up to the attendant at the entrance, waved my phone at the ticket reader, and walked right in. After a security checkpoint, I was offered a map and given the sage advice to begin my exploration of the museum from the Concourse Level that lies three floors below the entrance.
In three hours, I read right from Harriet Tubman’s hymnal and from a slave’s harrowing journal. I was reminded of the stories of Crispus Attucks and Amadou Diallo. I stood under a guard tower from Angola Prison and gasped at the cruel artifacts of the Transatlantic slave trade. I looked up in awe at George Clinton’s Mothership and the vintage plane “Spirit of Tuskegee” used to train many of the Tuskegee Airmen. There were plenty of moments that I was at a loss for words, but along the way I could always be uplifted by quotes, from Langston Hughes to Nelson Mandela to MLK.
The building itself is a work of art. Designed by architect David Adjaye it has earned prestigious awards and accolades. For me the true genius of the design is that you can appreciate the exterior while inside. The way the sun comes through the bronze plates makes the museum feel like a cathedral.
Displayed on the third level, you can see the wooden sculpture that inspired the design of the building. The piece is by Yoruban artist Olowe of Ise and it’s of a man wearing a crown — the crown being in the stacked shape of the building.
If you go: National Museum of African American History & Culture is located at 1400 Constitution Ave NW. There’s plenty of street parking.
FREE Admission…but: All visitors, regardless of age, must have a free, timed-entry pass to enter the Museum. Visitors will be able to secure up to six passes maximum for personal use only. Visit their website for more information. Masks are required.