5 Tips for Taking On The National Museum of African American History

09/26/17 | Black Culture, Travel

“Our history did not begin in chains.” – Malcom X

The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAACH) is a Smithsonian Institution Museum that embodies over 400 years of the African American narrative.

Visiting this museum was such an overwhelming, triggering, spiritually enlightening, informative, and yet beautiful experience.

As people of color, sadly, much of what we’ve learned about African American history is little of what we were school-taught, and more-so the stories that have been passed down through the generations, or what we have gone out of our way to learn on our own.

To see a building dedicated to our own history is more than humbling.  Knowing where we’ve come from, and how we still have to go very far was beyond insightful to see the overall spectrum of our history.

Visiting this museum is no walk in the park.  You will get a full dose of the culture.  On the outside, you are treated by a massive building of homage to the ironwork crafted by enslaved African Americans and the corona being inspired by the three-tiered crowns in Yorubean art in West African.  Inside, you are taken back to the times of slavery to today’s culture, along with the option to dine in the museum’s cafe featuring regional cuisines.

Let’s just say right now that you’re doing it wrong if you visited the museum and don’t feel even more “woke” upon exiting.

If you plan on visiting the Museum of African American History and Culture in the near future, here are few things you should know for when planning your trip.

  1. Get your tickets in advance: While the museum offers and almost requires visitors to have timed-entry tickets, if you don’t book your tickets in advance, your alternative is to be the first in line for same-day tickets, and this isn’t a sure bet to get in the museum.
  2. Be prepared to be there for a while: This advice is nothing to take lightly.  The normal hours of the museum are from 10am-5:30pm. Because we attended during the one-year anniversary of the opening, luckily, we were able to tour the museum for a few extra hours until 7pm.  Since there’s lot of be seen, be sure to get morning entry tickets to have the majority of the day to explore.
  3. You’re going to be in your feelings: Many of artifacts showcased are very triggering, from the KKK hoods to the Emmett Till casket to the very graphic images of lynchings… you’ll feel some sense of anger.  To end your museum visit on a lighter note, start your trip from the bottom where you’ll experience the darkest days of African American history, and work your way up to the top levels where you’ll transition to pop culture highlights from Funk and Jazz era and progressively hip hop and R&B.
  4. The food is bomb.com: In most museums, you have your Chicken Caesar salad and crab bisque, but here, you get the full dose of the culture, including the food.  “Sweet Home Cafe” features four food stations (Agricultural South, Creole Coast, the Northern States, and Wester Range) with popular, cultured cuisines, from fried catfish or chicken to shrimp and grits, collard greens, potato salad, cornbread and more.
  5. Know that there is something to take away from the experience: In various parts of the museum, there is a recording booth where visitors can voice their opinions on their views on their visit.   Because there’s so much history enveloped into this massive building, you can’t help but have learned something that you can add to your hindsight and share with others.

My biggest takeaway from my visit is knowing there is always something more to learn.  This visit is not enough to just say you know more about African American history and culture.

Take yourself to plays written by black playwrights like August Wilson, Langston Hughes, and Tyler Perry.  Watch shows like Insecure, Green Leaf, Black-ish, and Empire.  Read books by Maya Angelo Mellisa Harris Perry, Alice Walker, James Baldwin, Terry McMillan.  Get involved in multicultural groups, and talk to your friends about their experiences as people of color.

The more we know, the more we can grow.  Learn to love yourself and the skin you’re in.

Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture | Photo By Morgan Austin