A Century in the Making: Building the Museum

Keepsake pocket bank for the National Negro Memorial, ca. 1926

Keepsake pocket bank for the National Negro Memorial, ca. 1926.
Gift from the Ball-Haagland family in memory of Robert Ball.

Congressman John Lewis described this museum at the 2012 groundbreaking as, “an idea whose time has finally come.” Since 1915, African Americans have called for the construction of a “fitting tribute” to African American contributions to America’s history. Despite dedicated activism, and even a Presidential Commission working to establish a museum as early as 1929, the idea did not come to fruition. Over the next century, authorization for a national African American museum lagged as other memorials and national museums were approved, built, and supported with federal funds. Legislation finally came to establish the National Museum of African American History and Culture in 2003 as a result of renewed private and political advocacy. Selecting the museum site, designing the building, acquiring collections, and growing a staff would take more than a decade.