In Living African American Color
For Arts & Culture
National Museum of African American History and Culture Opens With Celebration, Reflection
In grand style, the opening celebration of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC)kicks off September 23 on the Washington Monument grounds with a three-day festival, The Freedom Sounds: A Community Celebration, highlighting the African American experience from storytelling and music to dance and visual art. Day one, Homecoming - welcomes artists and visitors to the Museum grounds, with speakers, art, and live music on four stages. The festive mood continues on September 24, with a dedication ceremony and live performances from Living Colour, Public Enemy, and The Roots. The festival culminates on September 25 with a Call and Response theme, featuring the musical talents of J. PERIOD and Meshell Ndegeocello and a special guest to be announced.
The NMAAHC is a Smithsonian institution currently housing over 40,000 artifacts covering African American history beginning with the origins in Africa and continuing through slavery, reconstruction, the civil rights era, the Harlem Renaissance and into the 21st century. The museum, which sits on a five-acre site on Constitution Avenue between 14th and 15th streets N.W., Washington, D.C. is free to the public.
It's been a long time coming – 13 years since being established by an Act of Congress in 2003. And on September 24, the historic NMAAHC devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, arts and culture, officially opens on the National Mall in Washington, DC, ending decades of efforts by many to promote the contributions of African Americans to the nation.
The uniquely built museum, designed by Ghanaian-born David Adjaye, lead architect Philip Freelon, and their team, follows classical Greco-Roman form in its use of a base and shaft, topped by a capital or corona which is inspired by the three-tiered crowns used in Yoruban art from West Africa. The building’s main entrance is a welcoming porch, which has architectural roots in Africa and throughout the African Diaspora, especially the American South and Caribbean. Finally, by wrapping the entire building in an ornamental bronze-colored metal lattice, Adjaye the architects pay homage to the intricate ironwork that was crafted by enslaved African Americans in Louisiana, South Carolina, and elsewhere.
Visitors to the museum will get to view about 3,500 of the over 40,000 artifacts. Viewers are warned – no stops were pulled when choosing the documentation of the African American experience. Highlights include a slave cabin from Edisto Island, S.C. (c. 1800-1850); Harriet Tubman collection, including her hymnal (c. 1876) and lace shawl (c. 1897) given to her by Queen Victoria, and family photographs from her funeral; Jim Crow Railroad car (c. 1920); Tuskegee Airmen Trainer Plane, an open-cockpit PT-13 Stearman (c. 1942), used to prepare Tuskegee Airmen for World War II combat duty; Emmett Till’s casket (c. 1955)—the glass-topped coffin that held the body of 14-year-old Emmett Till whose murder in Mississippi helped galvanize the civil rights movement. Also on exhibit is Chuck Berry’s red Cadillac convertible (c. 1973); works of art by Charles Alston, John Biggers, Elizabeth Catlett, Jacob Lawrence, Lorna Simpson, Romare Bearden, Archibald John Motley, Jr., Henry O. Tanner and Frederick C. Flemister. Fashionistas will really enjoy the Black Fashion Museum Collection of approximately 1,000 items.
The museum continues to grow, collecting artifacts; but is also more than an exhibit hall. Education and research is a major part of the museum, with programs and workshops already taking place. The NMAAHC has had traveling exhibitions since 2007, sharing the African American experience beyond its walls.