Breaking Ground The Innovative Spirit

Opening Day for the New African American History Museum Is Announced

Thirteen years in the making, the museum says it will open its doors September 24, 2016

New vistas remind visitors that the new museum presents a "view of America through the lens of the African-American experience." (Gina Whiteman)

Book your hotel and flight. Washington D.C. is going to be the place to be this fall. And September 24 is the big day for the historic opening of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture.

As the day for the official grand opening was announced this morning, Twitter fans were instructed to #SaveTheDate with no less than seven months to go. The formal announcement said that President Barack Obama will cut the ribbon to open the doors to the public and commence a week-long celebration.

"After 13 years of hard work and dedication on the part of so many, I am thrilled," said the founding director Lonnie Bunch in a report. "In a few short months visitors will walk through the doors of the museum and see that it is a place for all people. We are prepared to offer exhibitions and programs to unite and capture the attention of millions of people worldwide. It will be a place where everyone can explore the story of America through the lens of the African-American experience."

The museum says it will open the doors with extended visiting hours and a three-day festival showcasing films, popular music, dance and other attractions. Museums around the country and in Africa also plan to host accompanying events at their locations as a welcoming salute.


The museum was established in 2003 in legislation signed by George W. Bush. Architectural design was awarded to Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroupJJR in 2009 and the construction firm Clarke/Smoot/Russell was selected in 2011.

The official ground breaking took place just four years ago on February 22 at the corner of Constitution Avenue, between 14th and 15th streets, N.W., in Washington, D.C.

The five-story building, which was recently turned into a giant 3D movie screen depicting a film that highlighted significant historic moments in the country's history, will have five levels above ground and four more below. The 400,000-square-foot building includes exhibition space, a theater and café, staff offices and an education center.

The museum says that the "signature space" is a water and light-filled memorial area called the Contemplative Court, where visitors are invited to reflect on the stories told within the building. A reflecting pool at the south entry is endowed with a purpose—"calm waters meant to invite all to approach."

Metaphor and profound significance is crafted into the building itself, which offers a number of prismatic angles and viewpoints known as "lenses," or opportunities for visitors to view the White House and the Washington Monument, as well as other locations around the National Mall from unique framed perspectives—"a view of America through the lens of the African American Experience."

The 11 inaugural exhibitions will feature some of the 34,000 artifacts, including a railroad passenger car that dates to the Jim Crow era, a shawl worn by Harriet Tubman, a traveling trunk that belonged to the family of the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, an airplane used to train Tuskegee airmen, Nat Turner's Bible and hundreds of other rare and rarely seen objects that curators have been steadily collecting since the museum was established. In addition, the museum will open with a formidable collection of art and photography, works by Charles Alston, Elizabeth Catlett, Romare Bearden and Henry O. Tanner.

Mark your calendars. Call your travel agents, this is the moment.

About Beth Py-Lieberman
Beth Py-Lieberman

Beth Py-Lieberman is the museums editor, covering exhibitions, events and happenings at the Smithsonian Institution. She has been a member of the Smithsonian team for more than two decades.

Read more from this author |

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus