Welcome to the North Star!

A place where you can discover stories and objects that illuminate the African American experience.

The North Star has been an important symbol in the African American community. A beacon of hope and freedom for some, a symbol of knowledge and information for others and a celestial representation of purpose and reason.

What will you find?

Explore African American history through digital activities on the Smithsonian Learning Lab platform. The activities, or collections, have gathered objects, stories, videos and thinking questions all in one place.


 

Start your journey

Learn more about how to navigate the Smithsonian Learning Lab. Watch the video to the right to get a tour of the features in the digital activities to come.

Read Between the Brushstrokes

Art as a Historical Source:
How does this painting celebrate the daily lives of the African American experience in the South?
Explore! about Read Between the Brushstrokes

Learning History Through Objects

The Founding Documents:
What role did this desk play in the creation of America’s ideals?
Explore! about Learning History Through Objects

Becoming a Historian

Historical Context:
In what ways does this photo represent the “voice of the people”?
Explore! about Becoming a Historian

Activities by Series

Walking Painting by Charles Henry Alston

Read Between the Brushstrokes

Art is an historical source and reflection of its time. Using pieces from the NMAAHC collection, explore a visual history of the African American experience.

View the Series about Read Between the Brushstrokes
Emancipation Proclamation Inkstand

Learning History Through Objects

This series uses object and documents to learn African American history inspired by the collections and stories in the NMAAHC.

View the Series about Learning History Through Objects
African American Soldiers

Becoming a Historian

Certain thinking skills help us understand history better. In these activities, practice the skills using objects from the NMAAHC collection.

View the Series about Becoming a Historian

Did You Know?

Beginning in 1830, free and previously enslaved African Americans met at political conventions to “organize and strategize for racial justice” throughout the North and West during the Antebellum Era, and throughout the South after the Civil War.

Browse by Theme

Explore Activities

Grand Dame Queenie by Amy Sherald (2012)

Grand Dame Queenie

Through visual and historical analysis of the art piece Grand Dame Queenie by Amy Sherald (2012), learn more about the life and work of portrait artist Amy Sherald.
Explore! about Grand Dame Queenie
Illustration of abolitionist from Tremont Temple in Boston

Abolition

What can objects tell us about the abolitionists, the Abolitionist Movement, and the events highlighting the coming of the Civil War? How will this information help us to better understand the dual themes of slavery and freedom while exploring history through the African American lens?
Explore! about Abolition
"Servants at a Pump" a painting by Nicolino Calyo (ca. 1840)

Servants at a Pump

Through the visual art piece "Servants at a Pump" by Nicolino Calyo (ca. 1840), learn more about the events and cultural context of the mid-1800's including the establishment of successful all-black towns in New York and the implications of anti-slavery legislation in the North, while honing their visual literacy competency.
Explore! about Servants at a Pump
Painting of Slaves at the Well

Free African Americans

What can objects tell us about the experiences of free African Americans and their communities throughout the United States? How will this information help us to better understand the dual themes of slavery and freedom while exploring history through the African American lens?
Explore! about Free African Americans
Urban Mask sculpture by Chakaia Booker

Urban Mask

Through the visual art piece Urban Mask by Chakaia Booker (2001), learn more about the events and cultural context of the early 2000s in America.
Explore! about Urban Mask
Image of a Statue of Thomas Jefferson

The Paradox of Liberty

What can objects tell us about the paradox of liberty in the new United States? How will this information help us to better understand the dual themes of slavery and freedom while exploring history through the African American lens?
Explore! about The Paradox of Liberty
A colorful painting of black protesters

Unite

Through the visual art piece Unite by Barbara Jones-Hogu (1971), learn more about the cultural context of the late 1960's and early 1970's including the Black Arts Movement.
Explore! about Unite
Map of Westward Expansion and Slavery

Westward Expansion

What can objects tell us about the experiences of African Americans in relation to Westward Expansion and the Domestic Slave Trade? How will this information help us to better understand the dual themes of slavery and freedom while exploring history through the African American lens?
Explore! about Westward Expansion
Bronze sculpture Ethiopia by Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller

Ethiopia

Through the visual art piece Ethiopia by Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller (1921), learn more about the events and cultural context of the 1920s in America, including the Harlem Renaissance.
Explore! about Ethiopia
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