A Century in the Making

Building the National Museum of African American History and Culture

In September 2016, the newest Smithsonian museum opened on the National Mall. The journey to open the museum has taken many attempts and numerous steps to realize, including the activism of private citizens and organizations, passage of federal legislation, construction of an inspiring new building, and collecting thousands of artifacts.

It has involved the efforts of presidents and members of Congress, curators and architects, art collectors and army veterans, celebrities and ordinary citizens. This exhibit explores the journey towards fulfillment of this long-held dream, providing an overview of the century-long struggle and its culminating achievements.

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

Keepsake pocket bank for the National Negro Memorial, ca. 1926
Commissioned by the National Memorial Association
Gift from the Ball-Haagland family in memory of Robert Ball, 2016.74

Exhibition Experience

A Need for a Museum

The first part of the exhibit allows visitors to explore the motivations and steps taken by numerous individuals and groups from 1915 to 2003 to establish a national monument and building in Washington D.C. dedicated to African American contributions to the nation.

An Architectural Marvel

The sources of inspiration behind the Museum’s building design and the architectural team responsible for it are revealed.

A Symbolic Site

This section highlights the significance of the Museum’s unique location on the National Mall, at the center of Washington D.C.’s historic core.

A Design in Harmony

Here visitors can review the important role the public played in shaping the Museum’s final design and its integration with its physical environment.

A Collection from Scratch

This section explores the critical role collection donors played in helping the Museum grow its collection of close to 37,000 artifacts and works of art.

Our Museum Family

The last part of the exhibit presents the behind-the-scenes contributions of numerous individuals, groups, and volunteers involved in the Museum’s development.