A People’s Journey, A Nation’s Story: The History

The long-awaited opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture generated worldwide attention. We’ve gathered some of the most interesting, compelling and thought-provoking coverage to tell the story of the museum’s history—100 years in the making.


Smithsonian Breaks Ground for the National Museum of African American History and Culture

February 22, 2012

President Obama at podium, American and Smithsonian flags in the background

President Barack Obama speaks at the groundbreaking ceremony for the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 22, 2012, flanked by former First Lady Laura Bush, Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough, First Lady Michelle Obama and Lonnie Bunch, director of the museum. (Photo by John Gibbons)

The National Museum of African American History and Culture was created in 2003 by an Act of Congress, establishing it as part of the Smithsonian Institution. Ground was broken on the museum’s five-acre site adjacent to the Washington Monument Feb. 22, 2012 in an invitation-only ceremony on the National Mall. President Barack Obama spoke at the ceremony. Other honored guests included First Lady Michelle Obama, former First Lady Laura Bush, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Gov. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) Read more from the Smithsonian press release.

100 Years In The Making, Black History And Culture Museum Gets Ready For Reveal

NPR, Sept. 14, 2016

exterior of museum

When it opens, the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., will be the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African-American life, history and culture. (Photo by Alan Karchmer)

When peals ring out from a 130-year-old church bell at the Sept. 24 dedication ceremony for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, they will signal the end of a long journey. Read more from Tanya Ballard Brown for NPR.

Triumph of truth: new museum upends ‘great denial’ of African American history

The Guardian, Sept. 15, 2016

Helmet in display case woith photo of soldiers in the background

A helmet from the first world war Harlem Hellfighters on display at the new Smithsonian museum in Washington, which opens 24 September. Photograph: Preston Keres/AFP/Getty Images

Jesse Jackson walked through galleries chronicling African Americans’ enslavement, long struggle for freedom and achievements in culture, science, sport and politics. “I wish Dr King were here today,” the veteran civil rights activist said quietly. “Just for a moment.” Read more from David Smith for the Guardian.

The Smithsonian’s New Black History Museum and the Riches Within

Ebony, Sept. 16, 2016

Museum at twilight with Washington Monument behind it

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, April 13, 2016. (Photo by Alan Karchmer)

Jefferson Davis, a U.S. senator from Mississippi and subsequent president of the Confederate States of America, was a founding member of the Smithsonian Institution’s Board of Regents in 1846. A self-proclaimed visionary who believed in the power of education to shape the fledgling American nation, Davis upheld the lofty aims of the Smithsonian, a network of museums and research centers that would form the federal core of the nation’s intellectual central nervous system.

He also upheld slavery while millions of Africans contributed physically and intellectually to build the nation. Between 1847 and 1855, the labor of enslaved Africans was used to quarry the red sandstone blocks that comprise the iconic Smithsonian castle. Read more from Greg Carr for Ebony.

Timeline: It took over 100 years for the African American Museum to become a reality

The Washington Post, Sept. 21, 2016

Large construction site with heavy equipment and cranes

National Museum of African American History and Culture, April 17, 2013. (Photo by Michael Barnes)

For more than 100 years, advocates have pushed for a museum to honor and explore the contributions of African Americans. They overcame geographic, economic and philosophical hurdles, fierce battles with Congress and multiple design challenges. Here are the some of the twists and turns in the long road from dream to reality.  Read more from Wesley Yiin for the Washington Post

How One Writer Told the Story of the New African American History Museum

Washingtonian, Sept. 22, 2016

Portrait of Wilson wearing black dress and glasses, bookshelves behind her

Professor of Architecture at Columbia University Mabel O. Wilson, author of “Begin With the Past: Building the National Museum of African American History and Culture.”

It’s not often you see books about museums published by a single author. For Mabel O. Wilson, Professor of Architecture at Columbia University and a Research Fellow at the Institute for Research in African American Studies; this is only one of the many reasons her new book, Begin with the Past stands out.

“It’s tricky to have a single author write a book that’s trying to cover so much,” says Wilson. You’ll often see books on museums where there are multiple authors and they just divide the topics up.” Because museum director Lonnie Bunch is a historian, Wilson says, “he believes telling the history of the building was a part of black history.”  Read more of Sydney Mahan’s interview with Wilson for Washingonian.

The Smithsonian’s new African American museum was a long time in the making

ThinkProgress, Oct. 12, 2016

Obamas with Bonner, NMAAHC logo prominent on background

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, ring the Freedom Bell: First Baptist Church of Williamsburg, with members of the Bonner family at the dedication ceremony for the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016. Four generations of the family, descended from Elijah B. Odom, a young slave who escaped to freedom, rang a bell from First Baptist Church, founded in 1776 and one of the country’s oldest African-American houses of worship. CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

It is a tale of false starts, disingenuous efforts, gridlock, and also unexpected alliances.

A chuckle erupted across the crowd on the National Mall at the opening ceremonies for the National Museum of African American History and Culture on September 24, when former First Lady Laura Bush announced her husband, George W. Bush, signed the 2003 legislation authorizing the creation of a museum in the nation’s capital showcasing the experience of Black people in America. Read more from Cassie M. Chew for ThinkProgress.

Posted: 21 October 2016
About the Author:

Alex di Giovanni has been editing The Torch since August 2006. Prior to joining the Smithsonian, she worked as a writer and editor for the National Geographic Society, Plexus Scientific, The Nature Conservancy, The National Foreign Language Center and St. Martin’s Press, among others. She has the best job in the world.