Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture Review - An Inspiring, Unique Visit

Accompanying my husband to Washington D.C. for the annual meeting of the National Academy of Engineering provided me with the opportunity to visit the newly opened Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.  Each year the meeting organizers offer two opportunities for individuals accompanying members and choosing is always challenging.  We had to choose several months ago before a ticket to the museum became the hottest ticket in town.

Inspired by a hat, the museum is leed gold

For several years I have taken the route from the hotel to the National Academy of Sciences Building and passed the museum as it was being built.  I knew my choice was the National Museum of African American History and Culture.  And it was the perfect choice.  How could I do better than a tour conducted by one of the curators?

Bill tells it all


The museum is so new there has been no time to train docents.  Tickets aren’t available until sometime in 2017 and lines of people trying for the same day lottery extended for three blocks.  This is the place to be.


Slavery to Freedom 1400-18

Our tour was greatly enhanced by Pamela Lankowski, the Council Administrator for National Academy of Engineering, who kept our group together, and William S. Pretzer, Ph.D., Senior Curator for History, Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of African American History & Culture, who shared his passion, knowledge and time. Exiting the bus, the view of the museum up close was more impressive than from a distance.


Thomas Jefferson had many slaves

The building is beautiful and not like any other building I have seen. Due to the creativity of lead designer David Adjaye and lead architect Philip Freelon, and their architectural team Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup, they won the international competition in April 2009 to design and deliver the museum to the people of the United States. The groundbreaking took place in 2012.



A gift from Queen Victoria

Black and white babies

Basically, the architecture follows classical Greco-Roman form in its use of a base and shaft, topped by a capital or corona.  The three-tiered crowns used in Yoruban art from West Africa inspire the corona used for the museum. 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.  Wrapping the entire building in an ornamental bronze-colored metal lattice, Adjaye and the architects pay homage to the intricate ironwork that was crafted by enslaved African Americans in Louisiana, South Carolina, and elsewhere. 


Costumes of famous entertainers

Emmett Till - the tipping point

Lonnie G. Bunch III is the founding director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture. He has spent much of his career as a history museum curator and administrator.  Before beginning this job, Bunch served as the director of the Chicago History Museum from 2000 to 2005.


Entry level/Lobby/gift store

Hat is inspiration for building

Loyal soldiers- both sides

How did Lonnie G. Bunch III do it?  Arriving in Washington, D. C. with essentially no office, no staff and no site on which to build the museum, amazingly, this Smithsonian Museum stands proudly on the Mall, appropriately near the Washingon Monument.  Our guide was so passionate that everyone in our tour group was deeply moved.  The collection is varied, informative and surprising.  The exhibitions that date from the 1400's and move forward to today display amazing and poignant stories.  There is variety in the exhibits that include video, photos, objects and many interactive displays.Two items, the railroad car and the two story house, were placed in the museum before the walls were constructed. Our group felt very fortunate to have had the opportunity to experience this impressive museum.


Blacks in back -Railcar placed and building wrapped around

John Lewis- legislation for museum

Muskegee airmen trained on WWI planes to fight in WWII

Revolving arts

See a video of the opening ceremony for Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture



Rosa Parks was sewing this dress at the time of the bus incident

This New York Times walk through the building will make anyone’s visit richer and more meaningful.


Find out how Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture overcame one obsticle after the next from the New York Times


TV History

Photos: B. Keer

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