I told the story of how Ruth and I unexpectedly got to see the 19th and newest Smithsonian museum in “Ruth’s Best of Year”on December 24, 2017. In short, 2 kind African American women gave us their tickets. This museum, which officially opened on 9/24/16, certainly has a long name, National Museum of African American History & Culture, requiring a long acronym, NMAAHC. It’s a 5+Compass attraction.
NMAAHC’s Founding Director, Lonnie G. Bunch III, says that his museum’s mission is to “…be a place that welcomes all people to learn about how the African American experience has shaped this nation….so that we can better move forward, together, toward a future that fulfills our founding promises of freedom, equality, and justice for all.” Well said.
The National Museum of African American History & Culture took exactly 100 years to happen. In 1916 a citizens’ committee began a campaign to honor Civil War’s African American soldiers with a national memorial in Washington, DC. It took 13 years to persuade Congress to approve this and create a commission to move forward with plans for a memorial building. It wasn’t until 2003 that President George W. Bush signed the legislation creating the building. Built in the shadow of the Washington Monument, NMAAHC’s exterior comprises 3,523 bronze-colored aluminum panels. Covering a 5 story glass and steel structure with them makes this museum very distinctive.
Its entry is thrillingly large. Called Heritage Hall, it contains some dramatic works of art like Richard Hunt’s “Swing Low” and has a welcome center staffed with volunteers to answer questions. The level under it, Concourse, contains the Sweet Home Cafe, entry to some history galleries, and the Oprah Winfrey Theater that seats 350. After hearing her attention-getting speech at the Golden Globes, I won’t be surprised if Winfrey announces a run for high political office from its podium in a couple of years.
Ruth and I spent most of our limited time on the 3 levels above Heritage Hall. L2 gives visitors a chance to explore their family histories. Ruth especially loved this museum’s history-based exploration of education. L3’s Community Galleries thoroughly cover sports, the military, etc. The top floor, L4, is the most crowded and focuses on culture. Here I learned that “Dionne Warwick is second only to Aretha Franklin as the most charted female vocalist of all time”. It was my favorite floor because I was greeted at the top of the escalator by Chuck Berry’s 1973 Cadillac. Berry owned a fleet of Cadillacs, lived near us in Wentzville, now a suburb of St. Louis, and was a presence at Blueberry Hill, a night spot in St. Louis’ Central West End.
After Ruth & I saw what we could, I went to the welcome desk and asked a lady, among other things, about her primary wish for 2018. She told me that dropping entry tickets and welcoming all comers would be #1 on her list.
Indeed, if you want to see this incredible Smithsonian museum, don’t buy tickets to fly to Washington, DC, until you confirm your NMAAHC date. When we were there, entry required being on an eight month waiting list because this museum has been so outrageously successful. That’s why I broke our non-accumulation-while-we-travel rule by going into the gift store, which required standing in another long line, and buying the Official Guide to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture. This book will have to do until we can return to explore more.
ps That’s a sculpture of Jackie Robinson in NMAAHC at the top.