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DC African American Heritage Tour: The NMAAHC

Since its founding, the National Museum of African American History and Culture has been the center for Black history tours of Washington DC.

By John LimboPublished 3 years ago 5 min read

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is the 19th museum developed under the Smithsonian Institution. It is also the most recent museum situated in the National Mall in Washington DC and is the first and largest institution committed to the curation, documents, preservation, and most notably, celebration of African American history and culture. Though the museum informs the story of a single group of individuals, it is certainly at the core of every American experience. The NMAAHC informs the battle and victories of the African Americans towards liberty, equality, and addition, from the time the first servant ships docked from Africa to the New World up to today. Ever since its opening in 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture became a popular destination for every single Washington DC African American heritage tour.

It took more than 10 years to construct the NMAAHC structure, but it took more than a hundred years from the time that the idea of developing a national museum for African Americans showed up till the museum lastly opened its doors. The idea of installing the museum came from a 1915 conference of a group of veterans of the US Colored Troops who fought for the Union Army during the American Civil War. Frustrated by the discrimination still being experienced by African Americans, the group formed a committee to study and lobby the starting of an institution that will end up being a national memorial of the accomplishments of their neighborhood. Their efforts paid off when President Herbert Hoover formed a commission of noteworthy and prominent African Americans to study the expediency of the job. Regrettably, Congress did not back the proposal, and the museum did not pertain to fulfillment. Although numerous attempts to restore the task over the years and many smaller African American museums were developed, it was just in 2003 that a federal act was passed to lastly develop the NMAAHC.

The dispute over the site of the museum building practically became the factor for the job to be shelved. The commission charged by then-President George W. Bush to study the requirement for an African American museum proposed a plot of land adjacent to the Capitol Reflecting Pool, bounded by Pennsylvania and Constitution Avenues NW and 1st and 3rd Streets NW to be the area of the building. Different members of the general public, the Congress, and some advocacy groups felt that the elevated site was too popular and may trigger the National Mall to look too crowded. Several other websites were recommended till the commission and the Congress reached a compromise. After the costs were passed in both the lower and upper houses of Congress and signed by the President, a new site choice committee was established. After thinking about many sites within Washington DC, the final place west of the Washington monolith was chosen. Though the site was not as prominent as the initial place proposed, the place of the NMAAHC at the National Mall is still extremely symbolic. Teacher Lisa Benton-Short, author of the current book "The National Mall: No Ordinary Public Space," said that simply "being "on the Mall" makes an effective statement about shared identity, about belonging, and about recognition. It gives national legitimacy.

The design of the building of the museum is likewise significant. It was from a winning design out of competitors arranged by the NMAAHC board of trustees. The structure is influenced by a brown of the Yoruba culture of Africa and includes the shape of an inverted step-pyramid encased in a bronze-clad scrim. The primary architect of the winning style is himself of African descent. He was influenced by components of African and African American culture for his design. The metal lattice framing the building is similar to the ironwork typically forged by enslaved African Americans. The color of the exterior is likewise symbolic. Because of its bronze color, the NMAAHC sticks out from the many white marble structures of the National Mall.

The museum's theater is named after Oprah Winfrey, perhaps the most popular African American lady of her time. During the museum's construction, Oprah contributed $12 million on June 10, 2013, in addition to the $1 million the media tycoon donated back in 2007. She likewise served on the museum's board of advisers since 2004, a year after the act was passed to establish the NMAAHC. Numerous other prominent African Americans added to the fundraising efforts when the museum was being developed. However, the majority of the funding still came from the federal government.

During the initial phases of the museum's building, 2 exhibits were right away put on-site. The very first concrete foundations of the building were poured in November 2012. And as the lower levels near completion, cranes reduced and set up a segregated railway automobile and a prison guard tower from the Louisiana State Penitentiary. These 2 artifacts were so large and no entrance in the style of the museum that would let them fit and they could not be dismantled to be set up later. To be able to show these historic products inside the building, the museum needs to be constructed around them.

Speaking of artifacts, when the NMAAHC Act was enacted laws the institute does not have any collection particularly commemorating African American heritage. The museum searched all over the United States, particularly in the cities where there is a high concentration of African American population for pieces that were most likely kept at houses, attics, barns, and other storage. From nothing, the museum presently holds more than 40,000 pieces on their collection of artifacts connected to the African American neighborhood, family, the visual and performing arts, religion, civil rights, slavery, and segregation. Around 3,500 products are on display for the public. Some significant items include salvaged products from a sunken slave ship, a slave recognition badge from the 1850s, a Bible owned by Nat Turner, a segregated drinking fountain, a fitness instructor aircraft utilized by the Tuskegee Airmen, and Muhammad Ali's boxing gloves among other valuable items.

The very best aspect of the National Museum of African American History and Culture is that its admission remains totally free for all. With this, it turned into one of the most popular Smithsonian museums in Washington DC. Simply four months after it opened its doors, the NMAAHC reached over 1 million visitors. As much as this date, it is the focal point of every African American heritage tour of Washington DC.

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