From Our Perspective
A collection of our photography, travels, explorations, and experiences.
Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
When the Smithsonian Institute announced that it would be making timed passes available to the public, I was ready at the keyboard to jump at the opportunity. Within a few minutes of becoming available, I had secured four tickets to the Monday after its opening - Sam, myself, my brother, and his wife would be be visiting the National Museum of African American History and Culture at 4:00pm.
The signs of the birth of this new museum can be seen for blocks around its entrance. With street parking blocked off or reserved for police vehicles, tents set up around the National Mall, and temporary barriers creating queues that stretch for blocks, the additional road closures add to the already bustling traffic of downtown DC. Even inside the museum (which still cannot be entered without a pas), the lines to enter the gift shop were so long that museum staff closed the gift shop an hour early due to the crowds. However, it is more than worth the wait.
Once inside the galleries, all of the chaos and noise of getting to the newest addition to the Smithsonian family fades into the shadow that is cast by the immense power and presence of exhibits. The gentleman at the information counter advised that we begin at the very top to avoid the largest portions of the crowds, which normally work from the basement-up. He also gave up commemorative pins and post cards (I was very excited about these!). The architecture of the building itself is stunning. Anyone who has seen the outside - inspired by the crown of an African queen, must wonder what the inside looks like. It does not disappoint. It is modern, yet simultaneously pays homage to its African, American, and African American influences.
We visited the Culture Galleries first. I could have spent much longer (I spent a couple hours) in just this one section. The first room overwhelms the senses with spoken word, religious and musical influences, rhythmic, tribal, and eclectic urban marriages of sound bites, images, video clips, and artifacts that have shaped and informed the African American experience, contributions to society, and history. At its center is the carving that wears the crown that inspired that building's design.
The AAMHC boasts galleries that cover politics, sports, education, community organizing, slavery, music, visual art, theater, dance, cinema, protest, role African Americans in the military and in war time. Each gallery is well composed, complete, and impressively moving - warranting, rather demanding your full attention and commitment. Nothing before you can be ignored. Whether you are walking beside the colored-only train car or sitting at the designated lunch counter; whether you are listening to the accounts from the slave ships or comparing the size of your wrists to the size of the shackles; whether you are celebrating the contributions of Louis Armstrong to Jazz or Mae Jemison to Space - you cannot leave the same as you came. At the least, you will have left the AAMHC with a deeper appreciation for the history and cultural treasure trove of American History that is, until now and in part, untapped and untold; and at best, a more meaningful appreciation of a part of your own story, and how the history and culture encapsulated in this museum plays into it.