National Museum of African American History ©Author Adventures

The National Museum of African American History and Culture

The first national museum dedicated to African American history and culture opened its permanent home on the National Mall in September 2016, becoming the nineteenth and newest museum of the Smithsonian Institution. Since being created by Act of Congress in 2003, NMAAHC has collected over 36,000 artifacts, about 3,500 of which are displayed for the public.

Literary History

The museum’s enormous collection spans centuries of African American life in the United States and features many artifacts tied to a wide variety of Black authors and poets, including Frederick Douglass, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and countless others.

Beyond looking back at literary history, the museum also provides an opportunity to celebrate present-day Black writers through its Virtual Typewriter Poetry Pop-up. This event features three Black poets who take requests from participants to write custom poems on any theme. The event is free, fully online, and occurs every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Details can be found on the museum’s events page here.

In addition to preserving and displaying the legacies of many Black authors, NMAAHC is a powerful tribute to all aspects of Black history in the United States. The best way to view each exhibit is to start on the bottom floor (C3) and work your way up. The museum is designed this way intentionally so that you can experience each era of history chronologically. C3 covers the horrible realities of slavery, from the 1400s to the Civil War. The next floor up (C2) moves into the era of segregation, from Reconstruction to 1968. After that, C1 takes you from 1968 through the present. The floors above C1 offer more galleries that celebrate Black accomplishments in music, art, sports, and more. A map of each floor is available on this page.

To make a reservation, visit this page. For those unable to visit in person or simply curious, NMAAHC’s full collection can also be browsed online here.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is the fourth stop on the Washington, DC Author Adventures Trail.

Katie Smart