The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture is the only national museum in the United States devoted to the African American experience. Its unique architectural structure—wrapped in an ornamental bronze-colored metal lattice—houses 12 galleries and 13 interactive exhibits. The 36,000-object collection tells the American story through the African American lens, covering themes from history, politics, religion, slavery, and segregation to music, sports, fashion, and art.
The museum’s concourse level documents slavery in the US from the slave trade to emancipation with moving exhibits including artifacts such as Harriet Tubman’s personal hymnal and a shawl gifted to her by Queen Victoria. Other floors delve into segregation and run through to the present day, telling stories of the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and President Barack Obama as they relate to African American culture. The Community and Culture galleries showcase collective contributions to athletics, the military, and more. Also here, visitors can explore family histories through digital resources and get help conducting genealogical research and oral history interviews.
Museum entry requires a free timed-entry pass. Same-day and advance passes are available online, and some walk-up passes are distributed after 1pm on weekdays. Thousands flock to the museum daily, making it one of the most-visited Smithsonian institutions, and passes sell out quickly—plan ahead.
Things to Know Before You Go
- While the museum is free to enter, timed-entry passes are required.
- Head to the third-floor observatory for stellar views of the Washington Monument and the city.
- The on-site Sweet Home Café offers traditional African American cuisine from four US regions.
- Tripods, selfie sticks, food, and drink are not permitted in the museum.
- The museum is fully accessible. Wheelchair rentals are available on a first-come, first-served basis, and open captioning is included in all exhibition videos.
How to Get There
The museum is the latest addition to the Smithsonian’s collection on the National Mall. Due to the lack of nearby parking, the best way to arrive is by foot, bus, or Metro. The nearest Metro stops are Federal Triangle and Smithsonian on the Orange, Blue, and Silver lines. The museum is also a stop on many hop-on, hop-off tours of Washington D.C.
When to Get There
The museum is open from 10am to 5:30pm every day of the year except December 25.
A Thoughtful Design
Designed by Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye, the museum takes inspiration from Yoruba art of West Africa as well as architectural roots of the African diaspora of America. There are more than 85,000 square feet (7,897 square meters) of gallery space thoughtfully and beautifully displaying thousands of artifacts. Its history galleries in particular are a must-see.