There are few museums which capture the soul. The National Museum of African American History and Culture is one. All Smithsonian museums do a good job, but this one is done exquisitely.
Juxtaposed on the Washington DC Mall, surrounded by old white marble structures the museum rises up from the corner of the park on which the Washington Monument lords over DC.
You begin by descending into the bowels of the museum, to a claustrophobic set of rooms assimilating (as best as possible, without the fear and pain, of course) the hold of a slaver’s ship as you learn about the influence of European slavers in world trade (at least that’s what our hotel concierge told us).
You learn about the involvement of America’s black slaves and free men in the fight for American liberty from British rule and are thrust into the irony of “all men” being “created equal” as a cornerstone of the American independence’s founding.
You rise up and ascend to learn about African American influence, as slaves, in America’s rise as a world power through the cotton trade and meander through tales of uprisings, life on plantations and struggles for freedom and education through culture, legislation and judicial steps forward and back up to the American Civil War.
The museum takes you through the Civil War, Reconstruction and the aftermath of racism that continued post emancipation.
Ascend again, to learn of the struggle for Civil Rights through the tales of Rosa Parks, Emmitt Till, Malcolm X and of course Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Ascend and rise up through the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s as pop culture, music, television and sports introduce white America to African American culture from Jackie Robinson to Muhammad Ali to Tiger Woods and the Williams sisters, from the Jeffersons to the Cosbys to Oprah, from Dizzy Gillespie to Jimi Hendrix, Donna Summer to Run DMC.
Conclude with the inauguration of America’s first black President, Barack Obama, and you’ve made the journey from the 1400s to 2008.