If you are a black person living in America, you need to make it your life’s mission to somehow someway get your ass on over to Washington, DC to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. In my opinion, if you were to die without seeing this museum with your own eyeballs, your black card should be revoked at the gates of heaven…I’m just saying, that’s how serious I am about black people from all over this country visiting this museum.
I’m just going to get the point of this article real quick:
The National Museum of African American History and Culture (unofficial abbreviation: African American History Museum) is literally the GREATEST, MOST BEAUTIFUL, MOST AMAZING, MOST BLACKEDTY BLACK THING I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I’m not lying, I’m not exaggerating, I’m just being honest. To help bring this beauty to light, luckily a few days before my trip to DC to visit this museum, my iPhone 6 broke to the point where it decided to turn itself into a table weight which lead to me having to get a new phone…so I decided to get the iPhone 7, which turned out to not be a bad investment. For those who don’t know, I’m an avid photographer going on like 10+ years now. I’ve shot various genres of photography using various cameras that cost a few thousand down to some cheap 1-time use camera you can buy at corner store. Out of all the styles of photography, my absolute favorite is a genre called Urban Explorer (Urbex) where a person just literally explores urban environments & photographs whatever they find interesting. Out of all of the cameras I own, my absolute favorite camera has always been my iPhone. Why? It’s small & it fits in my pocket, that’s why. I own another camera called a Sony NEX 7 which is rather small as well, but it’s not iPhone 7 small and it can’t fit nice & snug into my pocket. The reason why I’m even mentioning this is because, I took a lot of pictures on iPhone 7 while I was in this museum…A LOT, and I’m going to be sharing a few of them with you (like the header image to this article I snapped as I was leaving the museum) in this article to help highlight just how magnificent the African American History Museum truly is.
*Side note about the pictures* I couldn’t capture everything due to me having to help monitor my 2 year old son who would have tore that museum into pieces like a little Tasmanian devil.
*Side note #2* I’m not going to give you a written account of every single thing I saw in this museum because that would require me to write a full blown dissertation & in the words of the Honorable Sweet Brown, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”
First things first, the museum is absolutely free to get into because it is a national museum paid for by tax dollars. So if there is anybody trying to sell you tickets to this museum, you’re being hustled. Now, you can’t just walk up to the museum and go in, you do need to have tickets which you can get more information on their website about that.
*Side note #3* I know I just got finished telling you all that you can’t just walk up in the museum without any tickets, but your boy here managed to do just that. What had happened was, the wife, the kids & I didn’t know about acquiring tickets beforehand, we just literally walked up to the museum with bright eyes of enthusiasm. Thankfully one of the sistas working the door was mesmerized by this beautiful black family before her eyes and she literally escorted us on in like we were VIPs…so shout out to that lady.
First thing you’ll notice upon entering the museum is that this place is staffed with a majority of black people. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I saw an actual non-black employee the entire time I was in there. Everybody from the security checkpoint at the door, to the people in the gift shop, to the people pushing buttons in the elevator (I’ll explain that soon), to the people making sure your bad ass kids don’t knock anything over on each floor. Everybody was black. So that was a beautiful thing to witness that I’m sure most probably didn’t even notice…but I did.
Now when you enter the museum initially you have to get your bags scanned and walk through a metal detector. No big deal. After you complete that task, you’re inside the museum on the 1st floor which is nothing fancy schmancy. It’s just a big ole lobby with a gift shop to your left, bathrooms & wall lockers to secure your stuff to your right and elevators immediately to your front to take you up or down the museum. The magic of the museum begins at the elevators folks. As soon as you press the button to the elevators and the elevator doors pop open, you will immediately notice that it’s gold everywhere as if you were chilling inside of the tomb of King Tut or Trinidad James was given permission to decorate the interior of the elevators. But the gold is not the interesting aspect. What is mind blowing (at least for me) is that there is an actual person assigned to sit in the elevator and push the buttons on your behalf to take you to the floor you want to go to. As in, there is a brotha or sista (cause it’s damn near all black staff from what I could tell) who is literally sitting in a chair near the elevator buttons who asks you what floor you want to go to & they push the buttons for you. When I first saw that, I was immediately mesmerized. I said to myself, out of all of the elevators in the entire world that I’ve ever been on, I’ve never seen a person whose job it was to actually push the buttons on my behalf. This is amazing. The African American History Museum has really taken this elevator business to the next level with that one folks. Sadly I didn’t get a picture of the elevator pusher because I was just in too much shock when I saw that.
The museum has a total of 7 floors: 3 lower levels, the lobby floor, & 3 upper levels. The lower levels is where black folks experience the most feels & white people experience (should experience) the most white guilt about the history of white culture. Once you hop off the elevator from the lobby to go to the lower levels, you find yourself on the 3rd lower level. From there you have to take another elevator to get down to the 1st lower level which is where the tour truly starts beginning with the history of slavery. The interesting aspect about the elevator for the lower levels is that for one, that elevator ride feels like one of the longest elevators rides in the world. Plus the elevator is see through, so as you are going down, on the walls surrounding the elevator they have years written on the wall to give the impression that you are traveling back in time.
Gallery One wastes no time getting straight to the point in pointing out when slavery started & why it started. Much of the gallery shows depictions of slave cargo ships showing how tightly packed they filled a ship up with slaves, the types of weapons used to capture a slave, the types of chains used to secure a slave…everything. A fascinating element about this lower level is how dark they purposely make the tour in Gallery One. If it wasn’t for the lights illuminating the displays or the lights from the television screens giving lectures on various aspects of slavery, people would literally be walking in complete darkness.
Gallery Two is all about the Jim Crow era from the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, to the separate but equal, to how so many stereotypes about black society came to fruition. This gallery was so jammed packed with displays, pictures, stories that…it’s literally just something you have to experience for yourself that I can’t do any justice in attempting to explain on this blog post.
*Side Note #4* In Gallery Two, there is a special section dedicated to Emmett Till which shows his casket. In the casket is a picture where his head would have been depicting his open casket funeral. This is the only section of the museum where they forbid photography or videography. I didn’t ask why. I just respected the rules of the museum and paid my respects.
Gallery Three’s main focus is on Civil Rights & the rise of black television entertainment in America. I didn’t take too many pictures in this gallery because quite truthfully, by the time I reached Gallery Three, I had been in the lower levels of the museum for over an hour and some change at this point & I was ready for a break.
The 2nd floor of the museum was basically a continuation of Gallery Two for the most part except this gallery brought in more interactive displays to engage visitors. There is an interactive display called Follow The Green Book which you sit “inside” of an old school car looking at the windshield which is really 2 television displays. Where the steering wheel would be is touch screen device which basically lets you select a destination to travel to. As you are “traveling”, in the windshield displays a story pops up with actors telling you about when black travelers decided to hit the road to go from one city/town to another how these black drivers were highly encouraged to navigate using a book called the Green Book which basically told the drivers safe routes to take in order to avoid sundown towns or any routes where there were known racists looking to cause harm to black people. Another interactive display they had on this floor was a display where you would stand in front of a screen to “digitize” yourself so that you could get a lesson in learning how to step as if you were pledging for a fraternity or sorority. I thought that was pretty interesting.
The 3rd floor mainly focused on black people’s role while serving in the military. I didn’t really take any pictures on this level simply because I spent 13 years on active duty in the US Army myself and I’ve seen a bunch of these images & displays time and time again. Although now looking back, I should have taken some pictures for those of you who may be unfamiliar. My bad, guess you’ll have to get tickets to the museum.
The 4th floor primarily focuses black pop culture from music to fashions to sports stars. This floor had my 3 of my absolute favorite displays: 1) the Parliament Funkadelic Mothership, 2) a can of Murray’s hair pomade & 3) Chuck Berry’s candy red 1973 Cadillac Eldorado
There is just literally too much going on in this museum (in a good way) for me to write about in this article. This is really something you are going to have to experience for yourself. However I do highly suggest that you allocate at least a good 4-5 hours of your day specifically for touring the museum because you are going to be in there for a while trying to see everything they have going on in there. I mean, the designers truly went above & beyond to beautifully put this building together from the outside facade to every display on the inside. Seriously, this museum is absolutely beautiful. I’ve never seen anything like it. So, now that I’ve given you a brief sneak peek, you need to put this in your travel plans so that you can experience this with your own two eyes.
P.S. Shout out to that cafeteria in the museum that was whipping up some soul food & barbeque…although the food was a bit pricey, it was still delicious.