Black History Matters

At last, after 13 years as a virtual museum, the National African American History & Culture Museum finally has a home of its own. And what a home! Taking pride of place on the Mall, next-door neighbors with the Washington Monument and the National Museum of American History, and boasting a clear view of the White House, the new museum is a piece of artwork itself. Many of the details are freighted with thematic meaning (latticed aluminum panels that echo ironwork created by slaves in the South, a silhouette inspired by traditional Yoruban caryatids), but even if you don’t catch those references, you can’t miss the power of lead designer David Adjaye’s vision. (The Tanzanian-born, London-based architect led a multinational dream team to victory in the 2009 competition to design the building.)

Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of African American History and Culture Architectural Photrography

What’s within those coppery-bronze walls, though, is even more important. During its peripatetic existence so far, producing more than half a dozen exhibitions that were displayed at sister Smithsonian institutions, the NMAAHC has amassed a collection of nearly 37,000 objects and artifacts, from a hymnal owned by Harriett Tubman to a dress owned by Rosa Parks to Louis Armstrong’s trumpet to shards of stained glass gathered at the site of the 16th Street Baptist Church. Now, all that art and history and culture will be under one roof. As at all of its Smithsonian siblings, admission will be free, although you do have to sign up for timed passes. (Starting on Monday, September 26, those passes will be available for same-day entrance, and all that week, the museum will stay open till midnight every night.)

Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of African American History and Culture Architectural Photrography

Timed passes for the opening weekend—the museum doors themselves will open at 2 p.m. on Saturday, after the morning’s dedication ceremony—are going fast, but there’ll be plenty to do outside the doors too. All weekend, the (free) Freedom Sounds Festival will bring the music (Preservation Hall Jazz Band! The Dixie Hummingbirds! The Stax Music Academy!), dance, oral history, and food (Kenyan curries! Caribbean jerk chicken! Louisiana po’boys!) of the African diaspora to the grounds of the Washington Monument. At night, Living Colour, Meshell Ndegeocello, Public Enemy, and the Roots will be performing for the crowds on the grounds, for free.

This dress is a wrap style made from a plain weave viscose fabric with a printed design of dark brown and yellow flowers and leaves. The wrap effect is achieved by crossing the front bodice at the waist seam and gathered fabric on the proper left side of the waist. The skirt is flaired with six (6) gores and three pleats in the skirt at the center front add further to the wrap effect. The set-in full length sleeves are gathered at a 1 1/4" cuff that closes with two metal snaps. The dress has a small shawl collar and a v-neck. The dress closes at the proper left side waist with a zipper. It is unlined, and the seams are pressed open with raw edges exposed. It is machine-sewn except for the hem, which is turned up 2 inches and hand stitched. There are two belt loops made of a thin yellow braid, one at each side seam, which hold the accompanying belt (b) in place. The belt (b) is made from the same fashion fabric as the dress, with a plain weave beige fabric backing. The front and back of the belt are machine stitched around the edge, and a layer of interfacing beteen them provides some stiffening. The belt has an oval-shaped metal single-prong buckle covered in the dark brown and yellow floral fabric, and five (5) white grommets on the opposite end of the belt for an adjustable closure.

Dress sewn by Rosa Parks, 1955 – 1956 – Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of the Black Fashion Museum founded by Lois K. Alexander-Lane

Brass trumpet owned by Louis Armstrong, signed "Henri Selmer Paris DŽposŽ Grands Prix GenŽve 1927 Liege 1930 H. Selmer 4 Place Dancourt PARIS Made in France" "Louis Armstrong" Mouthpiece engraved: "Mt. Vernon N.Y. 7E VINCE"; Object Number Trumpet TR2008-32.1; mouthpiece TR2008-32.2

Trumpet owned by Louis Armstrong, September 1946 – Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture


Gospel Hymns No. 2, Personal hymnal of Harriet Tubman, 1876 – Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Charles L. Blockson


Building Photos Courtesy of Alan Karchmer/NMAAHC

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