Smithsonian’s New African-American History Museum: Virtual Tour

Posted on September 6, 2016 at 3:57 pm

The National Museum of African American History and Culture, the newest addition to the Smithsonian, is finally opening this month. Free tickets for the first few weeks are already gone, but everyone can take a virtual tour of exhibits like “Musical Crossroads” featuring artifacts like Chuck Berry’s Cadillac and Louis Armstrong’s trumpet, and an immersive visual presentation. Musical performances on the surrounding screens include artists as varied as Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin and Outkast. In the Sports Gallery, a life-size sculpture records the moment at the 1968 Olympics when Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in the air on the medal podium and tributes to legends like Michael Jordan and the Williams sisters. The museum’s theater is named for major donor Oprah Winfrey.

Copyright Smithsonian 2016
Copyright Smithsonian 2016

As visitors wait for the elevator, they will view a wall of thought-provoking and inspiring quotes. And the casket of slain teenager Emmett Till, murdered in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman, will be on view, with a recording of his mother telling the story.

Museum director Lonnie Bunch wrote in Smithsonian Magazine:

I think the museum needs to be a place that finds the right tension between moments of pain and stories of resiliency and uplift. There will be moments where visitors could cry as they ponder the pains of the past, but they will also find much of the joy and hope that have been a cornerstone of the African-American experience. Ultimately, I trust that our visitors will draw sustenance, inspiration and a commitment from the lessons of history to make America better. At this time in our country, there is a great need for contextualization and the clarity that comes from understanding one’s history. I hope that the museum can play a small part in helping our nation grapple with its tortured racial past. And maybe even help us find a bit of reconciliation.

The museum pays tribute to the environment as well, seeking to become the first Gold LEED-certified building on the National Mall. Solar cells on the building’s roof produce electricity to heat water for the structure. Other sustainability-driven features include the green roof along Constitution Avenue and the water recycling and filtration system. The three-tiered trapezoid shape of the bronze corona that wraps around the outside of the glass building is inspired by a sculpture from the early 20th-century Yoruban artist Olowe of Ise of a woman wearing a three-tiered crown. Most of the building is underground, so that the structure does not overwhelm the nearby Washington Monument and other icons of the Mall.

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