A visit to National Museum of African American History and Culture: A review and an experience

Images of exhibits at the African American Museum of History and Culture. – Photo by Selena Seabrooks/The Dallas Examiner

 

By SELENA SEABROOKS

The Dallas Examiner

 

If I could describe the experience of visiting the African American Museum of History and Culture in one word, it would be phenomenal. My family and I visited the museum during our trip to Washington D.C. in October 2021.

Spread over five floors, the museum tells our story from slavery to modern-day, through the use of art, artifacts, manuscripts, books, documentaries and photos.

We began our tour by hopping on an elevator that took us to the bottom floor of the museum where we walked into Africa, “Slavery and Freedom.” As we walked through the exhibit and traveled from 1400 to 1877, we journeyed through the Atlantic slave trade to the American Revolution to the American Civil War, and then the Reconstruction era.

As part of the exhibit, we saw a fully intact slave cabin from the 1800s, slave shackles and a full-size sculpture of Thomas Jefferson that listed some of the names of the slaves he owned. One of the most striking artifacts was an iron neck-ring that was so small it could only be worn by a child.

From the first level of the exhibit to the second level, we were led to “Defending Freedom, Defining Freedom: The Segregation Era,” which covered 1879 through 1968 and shed light on The Great Migration and Jim Crow. Here, the photos of lynched bodies and the White Ku Klux Klan hood chilled me to the bone. This section also included an in-depth look into the Civil Rights Movement, which touched my father the most as he observed photos that brought back memories of him as a young man when he was sprayed by high-pressure water hoses, attacked by dogs and hit by rubber bullets.

“It reminds me of what I went through. It really hit close to home and brought back memories of the ‘60s and the Civil Rights era,” said my father, Urious Seabrooks Jr.

We were then led to the third level, “A Changing America,” which covered 1968 to the present. Although initially emotional, as this exhibit covered the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., this section was welcomed because it offered a feel of change. The incredible stories of activist Angela Davis, former U.S. Rep. Barbara Jordan, and former New York State Representative Shirley Chisholm were recounted, as well as the Black Panthers and the powerful Black is Beautiful and Black Lives Matter movements. This level introduced stories that detailed the influence of Blacks on pop culture and showcased the set of The Oprah Winfrey Show.

The tour continued to the next level called the “Community.” This section highlights the presence of Blacks in the military and sports. In this exhibit, honor is paid to the Tuskegee Airmen and athletes such as Carl Lewis, Willie O’Ree – the first Black player in the National Hockey League – Muhammad Ali and Gabby Douglas. One of my favorite items from this section was the pair of 1985 Air Jordans.

From here, we moved to the “Culture” section, which moved the focus to pop culture. Upon entering the gallery, you will see the red Cadillac El Dorado that belonged to Chuck Berry. You will also see the Mothership, made popular by George Clinton. This section paid tribute to several timeless musical artists like Sammy Davis Jr., Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson and Prince.

Overall, the museum was an amazing experience.

“The museum should be every family’s destination. It is a treasure to this country and the memories of all those are honored inside,” stated my cousin, Diallo-Sekou Seabrooks.

Due to COVID-19, additional safety measures were in place, visitors were required to wear a mask at all times while inside the museum, and certain areas were closed. Also, the in-house café, Sweet Home Café, had a limited menu.

Opened in September 2016, this is the only national museum dedicated to documenting the African American experience – from slavery to modern times. It has close to 40,000 artifacts that tell the stories of African Americans through the lens of African Americans.

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