After a nearly 15-year fight to gain legislative approval, and after years spent raising funds and construction, the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture is set to open on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The museum reflects on four centuries of the African American experience - both trials and triumphs.
Lead designer David Adjaye, lead architect Philip Freelon and J. Max Bond Jr. won the 2009 design competition for the five-acre site.
“We felt the weight just about every day, because we knew we were building something, not for the next ten years but the next 100 years that would represent our culture,” Freelon told “CBS This Morning.”
“It’s taken 200 years to complete this master plan,” Adjaye said of D.C.’s National Mall. “And last, but not least, I think this museum completes it -- makes you understand what the founding fathers were trying to achieve with the notion of ‘palaces of culture’ to educate the people. I think this museum comes at a very opportune time, to finish this master plan and to send it into the future.”
Though the building follows traditional classical Greco-Roman forms, its capping “corona” was inspired by the three-tiered crowns used in West African Yoruban art. The building is wrapped in ornamental bronze-colored metal latticework. And unlike other buildings on the Mall, there is no marble.
“The museum really is not just about making it any shape for the sake of it,” Adjaye said. “It really tries to make from the very silhouette a story for people to ask why, and it really tries to bring you back to Central and West Africa so you think about the kind of empires of that time and the history that the African American community have.”
“The site is really important,” said Freelon. “If you think about the Mall and the other buildings that are important to Washington, this five-acre site is the very last site that could accommodate something like this. So, in many ways, it’s going to be there as a reminder of the importance of this institution, because of its location, literally within the shadow of the Washington Monument.”
An interior view of the new museum.
The museum’s 11 massive galleries display, in total, more than 30,000 priceless artifacts spanning 400 years.
Among them: Wrought iron ankle shackles, of the type used to restrain enslaved people aboard ships crossing the Atlantic from Africa to the Americas during the Middle Passage, mid-1800s.
Salve bill of sale
An official receipt, dated Dec. 23, 1835, for the sale of a 16-year-old Negro girl named Polly for $600. This bill of sale transferred ownership of Polly from Martin Bridgeman to William H. Mood, both from Jackson County, in the territory of Arkansas. A gift of Candace Greene.
This weatherboard-clad slave cabin dating from the early 1800s was used at Point of Pines Plantation on Edisto Island, S.C. A gift of the Edisto Island Historic Preservation Society.
Nat Turner's Bible
A Bible owned by Nat Turner, who led a slave revolt in 1831. Turner and his followers killed at least 55 whites. But slaves also protected a woman who would become the great-great-grandmother of Maurice and Mark Person, descendants of one of the oldest white families in Virginia.
The family heirloom - like a majority of pieces in the museum’s collection - was donated by ordinary people who pulled them out of their basements, attics and churches.
Harriet Tubman’s personal book of hymns (Gospel Hymns No. 2, by P. P. Bliss and Ira D. Sankey), c. 1876.
This vintage, open-cockpit biplane, a Boeing-Stearman PT-13D Kaydet, c. 1944, was used at Alabama’s renowned Tuskegee Institute to train African American pilots for service in the Army Air Corps during World War II, as part of the Tuskegee Airmen.
A brass Selmer trumpet owned by Louis Armstrong, c. 1946.
A collection of glass shards and a shotgun shell, collected from the gutter outside the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., where a terrorist bombing killed four young girls on September 15, 1963. It would be more than a decade before a case was brought against a former Ku Klux Klansman for his part in the bombing.
A dress that Rosa Parks was making shortly before she was arrested for not giving up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Ala., on Dec. 1, 1955. The dress is part of the Black Fashion Museum Collection that was donated to NMAAHC.
A silk and satin American Beauty Dress (c. 1958-1960), by noted African American fashion designer Ann Lowe.
Cassis Clay’s boxing headgear from the famed 5th Street Gym in Miami Beach. After beating Sonny Liston in Miami in 1964 to become the world champion, Clay converted to Islam and became Muhammad Ali.
Sammy Davis Jr.
A pair of tap shoes worn by entertainer Sammy Davis Jr.
Chuck Berry’s Cadillac - part of the singer’s personal fleet of Cadillacs - driven during the 1986 filming of the documentary “Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
A jersey worn by track star Carl Lewis during the 1984 Olympic Games. Lewis won four gold medals in Los Angeles, and would win an additional five golds and a silver at the Seoul, Barcelona and Atlanta Games.
Michael Jackson’s fedora worn during his Victory Tour in 1984. The hat was caught by an audience member during a concert in Giants’ Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Items from the career of Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas, including a leotard from her first competitive season (in 2003); the grip bag, wrist tape and uneven-bar grips she used at the 2012 London Olympics, where she won two gold medals; the ticket to the Olympics used by Douglas’ mother, Natalie Hawkins; and Douglas’ Olympic venue credentials.
Museum of African American History
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture officially opens on September 24, 2016.
For more info:
Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, D.C.
Museum Opening: September 24 (Timed entry tickets available)
Schedule of events, Washington, D.C. (Sept. 23-25)
By CBSNews.com senior producer David Morgan