National Museum of African American History and Culture

The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) is a Smithsonian Institution museum located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Opened in 2016, it stands as a testament to the resilience, achievements, and contributions of African Americans throughout the nation’s history.

As the first and only national museum solely dedicated to the documentation and celebration of African American life, art, history, and culture, the NMAAHC provides visitors with an unparalleled opportunity to explore the rich tapestry of African American experiences, from the earliest days of the transatlantic slave trade to the modern civil rights movement and beyond.

Through its thought-provoking exhibits, engaging educational programs, and powerful narratives, the NMAAHC offers a unique and transformative experience that fosters a deeper understanding of the African American journey and its profound impact on the American story.

Nmaahc Architecture Building
Brook Ward

History of the NMAAHC

The history of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) can be traced back to a century-long effort to establish a museum dedicated to African American history and culture. The journey involved numerous individuals and organizations working tirelessly to bring the museum to fruition.

The idea of a museum dedicated to African American history dates back to 1915, when a group of Black veterans from the Civil War established the National Memorial Association. They proposed building a monument and museum in Washington, D.C., to honor the contributions of African Americans. Over the years, various proposals and bills were introduced in Congress, but none garnered enough support to pass.

In the late 20th century, renewed interest in the project emerged. In 1988, Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, a civil rights icon, introduced a bill to create the museum. Despite multiple attempts and growing support, the legislation failed to pass. However, Lewis remained undeterred and continued to reintroduce the bill for over a decade.


Finally, in 2003, bipartisan legislation to establish the museum was passed by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush. The legislation authorized the creation of the NMAAHC as part of the Smithsonian Institution and allocated federal funding for its construction.

In 2006, the museum was granted a five-acre site on the National Mall, between the Washington Monument and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. The construction of the museum was funded through a combination of private donations and federal funding.

In 2009, a design competition was held to select the architect for the museum. The winning design was submitted by a team led by architect David Adjaye, who drew inspiration from African art and architecture for the museum’s distinctive “corona” exterior. Construction began in 2012 and was completed in 2016.

The NMAAHC officially opened its doors on September 24, 2016, with a dedication ceremony attended by then-President Barack Obama, former President George W. Bush, and thousands of guests. The opening of the museum marked a significant milestone in the long struggle to establish a national institution dedicated to African American history and culture.

Since its opening, the National Museum of African American History and Culture has welcomed millions of visitors and emerged as an essential institution for understanding and appreciating the African American experience in the United States.

What to see in the museum

The significance of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in preserving and showcasing African American history and culture cannot be overstated. The museum plays a crucial role in several aspects:

  • Representation: The NMAAHC ensures that the African American experience is accurately represented within the broader American historical narrative. By highlighting the achievements, contributions, and struggles of African Americans, the museum sheds light on a vital part of American history that has often been marginalized or overlooked.
  • Education and Awareness: The museum serves as a comprehensive educational resource for people of all backgrounds, offering an opportunity to learn about the depth and breadth of African American history and culture. Through engaging exhibits, programs, and events, the NMAAHC educates visitors about key historical events, influential figures, and cultural milestones that have shaped the African American experience.
  • Preservation of Artifacts and Stories: The NMAAHC houses a vast collection of over 36,000 artifacts, documents, photographs, and other objects that help tell the story of African American history. These artifacts are invaluable resources that enable scholars, researchers, and the public to study and appreciate the African American experience.
Nmaahc Permanent
Giancarlo Renán Chávez Suárez
  • Celebration of African American Culture: The NMAAHC showcases the richness and diversity of African American culture, from art, music, and literature to food, fashion, and sports. By highlighting the cultural contributions of African Americans, the museum fosters a deeper appreciation and understanding of the unique heritage that has shaped American society.
  • Promoting Dialogue and Healing: The NMAAHC provides a safe space for people to engage in conversations about race, identity, and social justice. By encouraging open and honest dialogue, the museum contributes to the ongoing process of healing and reconciliation in a nation that continues to grapple with the legacy of slavery, segregation, and racial injustice.
  • Inspiring Future Generations: The NMAAHC plays a crucial role in inspiring future generations of African Americans to take pride in their heritage and to continue the legacy of their ancestors. By showcasing the resilience and accomplishments of African Americans throughout history, the museum empowers young people to believe in their potential and to strive for greatness.

The museum building

In 2009, a design competition was organized to select the architect for the NMAAHC. The competition received numerous submissions from prominent architects worldwide. Ultimately, the design proposed by David Adjaye, in collaboration with Philip Freelon, Davis Brody Bond, and SmithGroup, was chosen for its innovative approach and strong connections to African American history and culture.

Nmaahc Architecture
Brook Ward

The most striking feature of the museum building is its three-tiered, inverted pyramid-shaped “corona” design. The corona is inspired by the Yoruban caryatid, a traditional West African wooden column featuring intricate carvings and topped by a crown-like structure.

The building’s exterior consists of 3,600 bronze-colored aluminum panels, which form a lattice-like pattern that filters natural light into the museum’s interior. This design element is a nod to the ironwork crafted by enslaved African Americans in the southern United States.

The museum’s design is rich with symbolism and cultural connections. The building’s upward-slanting shape represents the resilience and determination of African Americans, who have continually strived for progress and uplift despite facing adversity throughout history. The bronze color of the panels evokes the idea of a “bronze monument,” paying tribute to the contributions of African Americans in building the nation.

Permanent exhibits

The museum features a wide range of permanent exhibits that span five floors, each focusing on different aspects of African American history and culture. The exhibits are organized chronologically, starting from the early history of African Americans and moving towards contemporary times.

Nmaahc Things To Do

The museum’s lower levels house exhibits that cover the early history of African Americans, including their journey from Africa to America, the institution of slavery, and the abolitionist movement.

The upper levels of the museum showcase the later history of African Americans, focusing on the Civil Rights Movement, contemporary African American culture, and the ongoing struggle for racial equality.

Slavery and Freedom (15th – 19th centuries)

This exhibit explores the origins of the transatlantic slave trade, the experiences of enslaved Africans in America, and the efforts to end slavery. Key features include historical artifacts, personal accounts, and multimedia presentations that provide a comprehensive look at the institution of slavery and the fight for freedom.

Defending Freedom, Defining Freedom: Era of Segregation (1876-1968)

This exhibit delves into the period following the end of slavery, when African Americans faced new challenges in the form of segregation, disenfranchisement, and racial violence. The exhibit highlights significant events, such as the Great Migration, the Harlem Renaissance, and the Civil Rights Movement, as well as the resilience and activism of African Americans during this era.

Nmaahc Sculptures
Kelly Dobson

A Changing America: 1968 and Beyond

Focusing on the period from the late 1960s to the present day, this exhibit explores the ongoing struggle for racial equality and the achievements of African Americans in various fields, including politics, sports, and entertainment. Visitors can learn about pivotal moments in recent history, such as the election of Barack Obama as the first African American president, and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Cultural Expressions: Art, Music, and Literature

This exhibit showcases the rich and diverse contributions of African Americans to American culture, with a focus on art, music, and literature.

Visitors can explore a wide range of artistic styles, from traditional African American folk art to contemporary pieces by acclaimed artists. The exhibit also delves into the history and impact of African American music, from spirituals and gospel to jazz, blues, and hip-hop.

Nmaahc The Paradox Of Liberty

Hours and admission fees

The National Museum of African American History and Culture’s hours and admission fees may be subject to change. It is highly recommended that visitors check the museum’s official website for the most up-to-date information on operating hours, ticketing, and any special guidelines or requirements.

Visit the NMAAHC website for the most current information on hours, admission fees, and other visitor information to ensure a seamless and enjoyable experience at the museum.

Nmaahc How To Get There

How long does it take to visit the museum?

The time it takes to visit the museum can vary depending on your interests and the depth with which you choose to explore the exhibits. On average, visitors may spend anywhere between 3 to 5 hours at the museum.

How to get to the museum?

The museum is located at 1400 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, D.C., on the National Mall between the Washington Monument and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. There are several ways to get to the museum:

  • Public Transportation: The most convenient and eco-friendly way to reach the NMAAHC is by using public transportation. The closest Metro station is the Smithsonian station, which is serviced by the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines. The Federal Triangle and L’Enfant Plaza Metro stations are also within walking distance. Additionally, several Metrobus routes stop near the museum. Plan your trip using the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) trip planner.
  • Biking: If you prefer biking, there are numerous bike racks around the National Mall, and Capital Bikeshare stations are available nearby.
  • Driving: If you choose to drive, keep in mind that parking around the National Mall is limited and may be challenging to find, especially during peak hours or special events. There are a few paid parking garages nearby, and street parking is available but often subject to time restrictions


In conclusion, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) is a vital institution that celebrates, preserves, and showcases the rich history and culture of African Americans.

With its striking architecture, powerful exhibits, and engaging educational programs, the museum offers a transformative experience for visitors, fostering a deeper understanding of the African American journey and its impact on the American story.