Reflections on the National Museum of African American Culture and History

Wow. That is one word that kept repeating itself in my mind during my visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) this past Thursday afternoon. The museum provides an experience that is amazing, powerful, thought-provoking and definitely full of emotions.  

Starting with the building itself…as many of you have probably seen, it is amazing- the outside almost looks like a sort of woven pattern to me. There are escalators that go up to the higher floors and this offers an interesting view on the building since it is when you are closest to the outside (when you are inside the building).

I have read a lot of great articles about the design of the building, but here is one from NPR. Both the location and design are very integral to the identity of the museum. I had no idea before reading articles that the location of the museum had been debated for a while.

It is very hard to describe the full experience as it is one that is powerful, yet intense. The museum is separated between history, seen in three floors below ground, and culture, which is the floors higher up. The history section extended back to include content from hundred and hundreds of years ago, including the roots of slavery, the European slave trade, the Middle Passage, the Civil Rights Movement and up to where we are today. This history section makes visitors really think both about how far we’ve come and where we need to go. The underground floors were very crowded, and there are sections that I wasn’t able to see- which is understandable due to the crowds.


I would have liked to have taken a few more photos to show from the history section, but I was really trying to just read and absorb all the information there. One aspect of the museum that stood out to me was the number of videos (produced by the Smithsonian) that were in the museum.

And then we get to the culture section of the museum. After all the emotions of the lower floor, I was definitely ready to go upstairs. Kriston Capps of Washington City Paper seemed to summarize the feeling of transitioning from one section to another very well: “The visual art galleries on the fourth floor will hit viewers like a cool blast of air conditioning.” The history floors are incredibly important, but I knew I was looking forward to the art afterwards.

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The art section was full of vibrant colors and different materials. Most of the pieces included historical aspects through the imagery or shapes- I found it especially important to read the labels for these art pieces in order to get the full picture. As someone who looks forward to seeing the next exhibitions, I am wondering how the rotation of exhibitions will work for the visual art section.