I want to describe my experience at the National Museum of African American History and Culture or the NMAAHC for the long short. This museum was 13 years in the making, from when President George W Bush signed the legislation to when President Obama stood in front of it last year to celebrate its opening. I felt the importance of this building as I walked up to it. It’s outer framing that looked like brass and it doubles as a projection screen which can light up the sky at night.
The layout of this building is not what you would think. Walking into the first floor it is incredibly expansive and begins almost like you would think a normal museum experience would. There was abstract art here and there but something was weird about this foyer. I turned around in a circle and said to myself, “I know what museum I walked into. The museum with a year long wait list, the one I was estatic for, so where is all the Black history stuff?” The lobby was large and virtually empty except for the info desk. I went over and they gave me a map and showed me the layout but I still didn’t understand.
The first thing I had to do was take a long escalator down. This floor was the ‘reflection area’ with a big grand staircase to the floor above where I was before and a small cafe. Still no AA history or pictures or busts. I headed to where other patrons were lining up to go into a room. We were in line for something, but the line wrapped around the wall and out of sight so I still didn’t get it. As I neared the far wall I saw it was a look out area and realized I was standing a full floor above the exhibit, looking down on it like it was in a cave. Rounding the corner, there was an elevator where they were counting off patrons to take them down.
In this large glass elevator and I didn’t go down one floor, not two, but three floors. On the walls as we were going down were time stamps and the years were decreasing. 1968 passed, and some more numbers, then there was 1877, and 1776, 1600. And I arrived at the beginning of our story.
Please don’t be that person that believes the story of African Americans started with slave ships. The beginning of our story is the origin of the world. And from the 4th basement level of this museum I would rise up through time.
For those skeptical of the need of a ‘Black History Museum’, I usually hear something like, it’s a needless effort because African American history can just as well mix in with the rest of American history. But no, the history of Black people is not like any other citizenship story in this country. It’s a history of people enslaved by this country. And a story of equality that has not quite finished but we all need to get it right for once. For a planning period of 13 years, this museum made good on its story telling craft.