The African American Museum in DC: Top Tips and PBS Videos

Christina Knight | February 6, 2017

National Museum of African American History and Culture

Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.

The African American Museum of History and Culture is the newest Smithsonian museum in Washington, DC. One-hundred years in the making, it opened to the public on September 24, 2016, with a ceremony attended by President Barack Obama. The museum is also the first LEED Gold certified museum on the National Mall, making it the mall’s most environmentally sustainable building. Here are our top tips on visiting the museum, and how to see it virtually through PBS programs.

The African American Museum: Top Tips

1. A free timed pass is required to visit the museum, so don’t plan on a spontaneous visit, because passes are in huge demand. Same-day, timed passes are available online beginning at 6:30am. A limited number of walk-up passes are available at the museum on weekdays, beginning at 1 pm. Even as of February, same-day passes are all booked within minutes each day. Advance day passes for future months are released monthly. On February 1, May passes were all booked within hours. The museum’s site has advice on how to plan your visit.

2. To decide how you might want to spend your time between the museum’s 14 exhibitions, preview the exhibitions in advance online. This way you can avoid the “I didn’t know THIS was here” rush at the end of your visit.

3. Follow the advice of the many positive reviews on TripAdvisor and set aside at least 4 hours to visit the museum, and wear comfortable walking shoes. The museum’s Sweet Home Café gets a thumbs up, with several reviewers calling it the best museum cafe on the mall.

4. Be prepared to experience a wide range of emotions at the museum (pack tissues). Among the stark artifacts in the museum’s collection are slave shackles and the casket that held the remains of 14-year-old Emmett Till, murdered in 1955 after whistling at a white woman. A book published in February, The Blood of Emmett Till, brings new questions about testimony at the murder trial, which acquitted two white men in less than one hour. The casket, within a quiet sanctuary in the museum, was donated by Till’s family. Simeon Wright, Emmett Till’s cousin, spoke with Smithsonian Magazine about the events surrounding his cousin’s murder and the importance of having the casket on public display, thanks to the family’s donation to the Smithsonian.

African American Museum on PBS Programs

On Thursday, February 16, 2017, at 10:30pm, see parts of the museum’s opening ceremony (with President Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Will Smith, Angela Bassett, and Stevie Wonder) and learn about the museum itself in the premiere of African American Museum on THIRTEEN. Past PBS programs in 2016 examined the museum and the history behind its making.

Religion and Ethics Newsweekly: What role has religion played in the African-American experience?

Correspondent Kim Lawton reports on the many ways it portrays the role of faith and spirituality in the African-American experience. She also talks with religious leaders about the impact they hope the new museum will have. Interviewees include Dean Alton Pollard III, Howard University School of Divinity and Lonnie Bunch, executive director of the African American Museum of History and Culture.

PBS NewsHour: New museum tells America’s story via African-American lens

Gwen Ifill tours the exhibitions and speaks with the people responsible for making the museum, including Executive Director Lonnie Bunch. The museum presents history through objects both celebratory and sobering — showcasing everything from Michael Jackson’s fedora to a pair of shackles discovered aboard a sunken slave ship.

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