Lonely Planet Writer

First look inside the National Museum of African American History and Culture

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The National Museum of African American History and Culture is due to open in Washington later this week, 13 years after its creation was first announced by Congress.

A wooden sculpture by Nigerian artist Olowe Of Ise wears a crown on which the museum's design is based in the Culture galleries at the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of African American History and Culture.
A wooden sculpture by Nigerian artist Olowe Of Ise wears a crown on which the museum’s design is based in the Culture galleries at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Image by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

The five-story, 400,000-square-foot museum is part of the Smithsonian Institution and highlights the achievements of black Americans throughout history. Close to the iconic Washington Monument, the newest addition to the National Mall houses over 36,000 artefacts in its collection and is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history and culture.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture. Image by Tony Hisgett / CC BY 2.0

As well as showcasing objects, clothes and statues, exhibits have digital kiosks that offer in-depth history behind famous people such as Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr and other figures linked to key historical events in African American history. The museum houses exhibitions dedicated to sporting achievement, featuring iconic African American athletes through the ages, such as Olympic champion Jesse Owens and Carl Lewis. There is also a range of cultural exhibits featuring information on influential black people in media, such as Oprah Winfrey, and work by artists, such as Charles Alston and Elizabeth Catlett.

An interactive touch screen is part of an exhibit about civil rights lunch counter sit-ins at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall.
An interactive touch screen is part of an exhibit about civil rights lunch counter sit-ins at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall. Image by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

This week saw advanced admission for media and guests, with visitors getting the chance to explore the museum for the first time. They were given the chance to try traditional foods at the museum’s Sweet Home Café, with samples of smoked haddock, corn croquettes, slow cooked collards and pan-roasted oysters on the menu.

A statue of sprinter Jesse Owens stands in the sports galleries at the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of African American History and Culture.
A statue of sprinter Jesse Owens stands in the sports galleries at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Image by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

The National Museum of African American History and Culture will open on 24 September. More information is available on the museum website.