Things to know about new Smithsonian African American museum

September 24, 2016
President Barack Obama walks into the Grand Foyer with Lonnie Bunch, Director of the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture, and first lady Michelle Obama, to speak at a reception for the museum opening at the White House in Washington, Friday, Sept. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Things you need to know about the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture on its opening weekend:


President Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, will officially open the museum Saturday during a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Tickets for the opening have been gone for weeks. However, the Smithsonian has placed large viewing screens around the National Mall so that those who lack tickets can see the ceremony. The museum will also stream the opening ceremony on the internet at https://nmaahc.si.edu/

The ceremony will be accompanied by a musical celebration called “Freedom Sounds: A Community Celebration” on the National Mall. Performers include Public Enemy and The Roots.


Construction was completed earlier this year on the 400,000-square-foot museum designed by British-Ghanaian architect David Adjaye. Ground was broken for it in 2012 on a five-acre tract next to the Washington Monument. While from the outside the museum appears to have three stories, there actually are five floors above ground and four floors underground.

According to Smithsonian officials, the three-tiered shape is inspired by the Yoruban Caryatid, a traditional wooden column that features a crown, or corona, at its top. The bronze exterior panels are inspired by 19th century ironwork created by slaves in the South, and allow sunlight into the museum through patterned openings.

The multilevel museum has a staff of 200, and will display more than 3,000 artifacts. Tens of thousands of additional artifacts are in reserve in the Smithsonian’s Maryland warehouses.



Museum officials say there 12 inaugural exhibitions containing nearly 3,000 items and occupying 85,000 square feet of space. There are 13 interactives at 17 stations, and 183 videos housed on five floors.

The exhibits include the history galleries; the museum’s centerpiece on slavery; the post-slavery, Civil War and Reconstruction story; and the changes in America from 1968 and beyond, which details the Civil Rights movement. The Cultural Galleries offer exhibits detailing blacks in music, style, food, craftsmanship and language; and two additional galleries for art, theater, film and television.

There is also a “Century in the Making” exhibit that explains how the museum came to be and what it took to get it on the National Mall.



The Sweet Home Cafe is the main dining area of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum for African American History and Culture. The executive chef, Jerome Grant, said the food served will also tell a story of the African-American experience.

The Agricultural South station features what is considered traditional soul food: chicken and waffles, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, barbecue chicken and candied yams. The Creole Coast station offers shrimp and grits or Louisiana catfish po’ boy sandwiches. The North station features dishes brought by freed blacks and those who escaped slavery, including a Caribbean-style pepper pot, a stew with meat or fish and vegetables, and an oyster pan roast. Influenced by Native American and Mexican cultures, the Western station includes Son of a Gun Stew, with braised short ribs, turnip, corn, potato and sun-dried tomato, and a pan-roasted rainbow trout stuffed with cornbread and mustard greens.

The cafe seats approximately 400 people. Officials said food prices will range from $8 to $15.

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