African American History Highlights at the National Museum of American History

September 13, 2016

Opening Displays

Celebration: Snapshots of African American Communities
Lower Level, West Wing
Sept. 9 - Dec. 7

A display of 22 photographs that reflect the diversity of the African American experience on view Sept. 9 through Dec. 7. The photos come from two collections in the Museum’s Archives Center that depict special occasions and everyday life in African American communities: the Scurlock Studio Collection and the Fournet Drug Store. The Washington, D.C., based Scurlock Studio Collection includes the work of Addison Scurlock and his sons, Robert and George, who documented not only graduations and weddings but also significant community events over a period of 90 years. The family-owned Fournet Drug Store in St. Martinsville, La. was a multi-generation business with an African American clientele that closed in 1984. The collection includes photos from the 1940s-1970s, mostly black-and-white and some hand colored, that were never retrieved by customers.

Black Main Street: Funding Civil Rights in Jim Crow America
American Enterprise, New Perspectives Case
Sept. 16 - March 8, 2017
First Floor, West Wing

The rotating “New Perspectives” display, located within the Ameican Enterprise exhibition, examines the ways in which African American businesses, both large and small, contributed to the civil rights movement. This temporary showcase, on view Sept. 16 through March 8, 2017, focuses on Harold Cotton who owned and operated Bob’s Hat Shop in Greensboro, N.C., from 1953 to 2005 and Marjorie Stewart Joyner who supervised the training of thousands of African American beauticians as vice president of the Madam C. J. Walker Company. Objects on display include a National Cash Register from Cotton’s shop and beautician’s styling tools.

Website Collaboration with NMAAHC and NMAI

Many Lenses

The first phase of a collaborative project between NMAAHC, NMAI and NMAH looking at collections from the perspective of the three institutions. For the launch, the website highlights one object from each of the three museums, eventually it will be expanded to include additional artifacts. Contributors include NMAH curators Fath Ruffins, Mireya Loza, and Madelyn Shaw.

One example is a silver-plated tea owned by a free African American family in Boston in the 1850s which may appear on the surface to be a simple assortment of serving containers. But what has this set seen, what has it heard? Our curator Fath Davis Ruffins helps highlight these stories and what is sometimes hidden history within an object.

On View

Artifact Walls

Artifact walls, consisting of 275 linear feet of glass-fronted cases lining the first and second floor center core, highlight the depth and breadth of the collections and convey that the museum collects, studies and exhibits objects from our nation’s rich and diverse history.

  • Mt. Zion Mission Baptists Church Sign
    First Floor, West Wing

    Sign for one of several Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Churches, which sprang up across the South following the Civil War, providing a place of rest and community for freed slaves.
  • President Obama’s 2015 NCAA Tournament Bracket
    First Floor East Wing

    In 2015, President Barack Obama filled out this whiteboard with his bracket for the year’s NCAA basketball tournament. The bracket hung on the walls of ESPN, Inc., Headquarters in Bristol, Conn. until they donated it to the museum at the end of the tournament.
  • Duke Ellington’s Wurlitzer Electric Piano:
    First Floor West Wing

    Jazz musician and composer, Duke Ellington, used this piano during many of his travels to compose and perform his music.
  • Junius Wilson’s Bicycle:
    Second Floor West Wing

    Junius Wilson, 1908-2001, a poor, deaf, African American man, was wrongly accused of a crime as a teenager and spent most of his life institutionalized in a mental hospital.  During his time in the hospital, this yellow Schwinn bicycle gave him the freedom to explore the grounds.
  • Jesse Fuller’s Silvertone Electric Acoustic Guitar
    Second Floor, East Wing

    Jesse Fuller (1896-1976), a one-man-band folk and blues singer best known for his songs “San Francisco Bay Blues” and “Beat It on Down the Line,” owned and played this guitar. He purchased it from a Detroit Sears in 1962 after his original guitar was stolen and needed to be replaced for an upcoming performance the same evening.
  • Duke Ellington’s Music Stand
    Second Floor, East Wing

    Music stand from the Duke Ellington Orchestra led by Ellington from the 1920s until his death in 1974. This particular stand dates from between the 1960s and the 1970s.
  • Phoenix Hose Company Hat in the Always Ready display
    First Floor West Wing

    Attributed to David Bustill Bowser, a free African American painter from a prominent Philadelphia family who painted for fire companies, militias and military regiments in the Civil War, as well as portraits of Lincoln and John Brown.

First Floor

America on the Move
First Floor, East Wing

This 26,000-square-foot exhibition anchors the General Motors Hall of Transportation, features more than 300 transportation artifacts and allows visitors the opportunity to travel back in time and experience transportation as it shaped American lives and landscapes. This comprehensive transportation exhibition includes many important African American stories within the broader context of American History:


  • Garret Morgan Traffic Signal

    Garret Morgan, an African American inventor, demonstrated this manually operated illuminated traffic signal in Cleveland, Ohio in 1923. The signal was able to stop traffic in all directions, providing a safe interval for pedestrians.

Black Renaissance

  • B flat clarinet, 1920; Tenor saxophone, Sugar Foot Stomp sheet music 1926

    In the 1920s many African American artists and performers were drawn to New York to take part in Harlem’s dynamic jazz and blues music scene. 

Urban renewal and Suburbanization

  • A mechanical visual interactive shows Chicago before and after the Dan Ryan highway was built and divided a vibrant urban black community.
  • Park Forest, Illinois, 1950s

    Social activists in this new middle-class Chicago suburb worked to encourage black families to move to Park Forest in the 1950s.

Transportation and Race

  • Electric streetcar 1898, Mary Johnson Sprow story

    The District of Columbia did not pass restrictive Jim Crow laws for streetcar travel but unwritten social customs segregated blacks and whites on the streetcars and in other public places.
  • Salisbury Depot, NC – Charlotte Hawkins Brown interactive, tactile depot map, train scale model

    Jim Crow laws in the 1920s South meant that blacks and whites would not intermix on trains or in stations.
  • Pullman Porters – blanket, cap, union card

    Pullman sleeper cars were staffed by African Americans. One of the best jobs available to blacks in the early 1900s was being a Pullman porter. They were held in high esteem in their communities and provided guidance and information to blacks in the South about opportunities in the North. The work put them in racist servitude but both exploited and offered opportunity.
  • Railroaders behind the scenes – 1401 locomotive and repair tools

    Many locomotive firemen, who stoked the engine’s coal boiler, were African American. Because of segregated traditions, the 1401 locomotive water valves (usually controlled by the fireman) were piped over to the engineer’s side of the cab. African Americans also found work on track repair gangs and in repair shops like the Spencer, N.C., shop.
  • Freedom riders – photo

    This dramatic photo of a bus on fire in 1961 shows what happened next to African Americans when the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson ruling allowing segregation is overturned in the 1954 Brown v Board of Education ruling. Freedom riders took nonviolent action to see if bus stations were desegregated as ordered.

FOOD: Transforming the American Table
First Floor, East Wing

This 3,800-square-foot exhibition explores some of the major changes in food and eating in postwar America. The soul food movement attempted to celebrate the culturally and socially important foods of black people that had been negatively portrayed by mainstream America. Soul food restaurants and cookbooks proliferated and innovators, like Princess Pamela (Strobel), Sylvia (Woods), and Vertamae (Grosvenor) in Harlem, were food stars of their day. Introducing and enshrining the treasured foods of southern blacks to a wide audience, they made soul food, like soul music, synonymous with the cultural contributions of black people to American life.

  • Princess Pamela’s Soul Food Cookbook, 1969
  • Sylvia’s Soul Food, 1992
  • Vibration Cooking or the Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl, 1992 reprint

    Vertamae Grosvenor, a performer and journalist and later a television personality, took her skills and knowledge of so-called African “roots” cooking—which she called “vibration” cooking—to a new popularity with this autobiographical culinary cookbook about her South Carolina Sea Islands upbringing.
  • Dick Gregory’s Natural Diet for Folks Who Eat: Cookin’ with Mother Nature, 1974

    The Nation of Islam’s Elijah Muhammad urged black people to reject pork-centric “slave food” central to the very definition of soul food. Dick Gregory, a politically active performer, went further by advocating a vegetarian diet, foreshadowing modern health concerns in black and Hispanic communities. This cookbook remains popular among many African Americans.

On the Water: Stories from Maritime America
First Floor, East Wing

The exhibition builds on the Smithsonian’s unparalleled National Watercraft Collection of rigged ship models, patent models, documents and images to bring the sights, sounds and stories from the oceans, inland rivers and coastal communities to the museum’s millions of visitors.

Forced Crossings:
The Atlantic slave trade was the largest forced migration of people by sea in history. Hard labor made tobacco, rice and sugar plantations profitable. Buying and enslaving the people who supplied this labor ultimately became a lucrative and tragic part of the commerce in the Atlantic world’s maritime web of connections. During nearly 400 years of Atlantic-centered trade, between 11 and 15 million Africans arrived in the Americas as slaves. While the actual numbers are not known, scholars speculate around 1 million people were brought to North America.

  • Slave Ship Model

    A model showing a typical ship in the early 1700s on the Middle Passage. During the time of slave trade, captains usually chose between two options: pack in as many slaves as possible and hope that most survive, or put fewer aboard, improve the conditions between decks and hope to lose fewer to disease.

African Americans and Whaling

Commercial whaling in the 1800s was far more integrated than most trades on land, and racial prejudice was generally more muted on whaleships than in society at large. Black and white whalers had to work side by side to get the job done—and to survive.

Many owners of whaleships were Quakers, a religious group opposed to slavery. Some New England towns were also important stops on the Underground Railroad, an informal network that provided safe passage to people trying to escape slavery. And these towns needed seamen, including free black people and those who had escaped slavery.

American Enterprise
First Floor West Wing

The 8,000 square foot “American Enterprise” exhibition, with over 600 objects, broadly chronicles the tumultuous interaction of capitalism and democracy that resulted in the continual remaking of American business and American life. Stories of African Americans are richly represented throughout this comprehensive exhibition.

  • The Business of slavery – enslaved family sculpture and interactive

    Slavery created enormous profits not only for Southern planters and slave traders, but also for Northern cotton-mill owners and investors. Nearly one million enslaved Africans, defined as property, were wrenched from their upper South families. Some bought their freedom; more fought back by running away or even taking their own lives.
  • Christening Gown, Elizabeth Keckley

    This white infant’s dress with short raglan sleeves was made by African American dressmaker Elizabeth Keckley for her goddaughter Alberta Elizabeth Lewis-Savoy in 1866. Keckley bought her freedom and moved to Washington D.C., where her dress-making skills were valued by clients such as First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln. Note: A dress she designed for Mrs. Lincoln is on view in the “First Ladies” exhibition.
  • Madame C.J. Walker – biography wall

    After years as a laundress, Walker launched a hair care company in 1910. Employing thousands of licensed agents, she sold her products across the country. To promote the careers of African American women, she established hair care schools that used the “Walker method.” She gave generously to African American causes.
  • A. Philip Randolph – biography wall, Labor Leaders video

    Labor leaders often rose from the ranks to secure for fellow workers a living wage, safer working conditions, shorter hours, and balance the scales of economic justice through direct action as well as state and federal legislation. A. Philip Randolph, organizer of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, was one of the nation’s most prominent African American leaders.
  • African American Markets - Gold Record, WANN banner, remote broadcasting box, deejay name tag

    WANN, a radio station in Annapolis, Maryland, cultivated black consumers and demonstrated their buying power to businesses. African Americans challenged segregation by demanding better jobs and equal access to goods and services.
  • Teen Markets - Johnson's Afro Sheen Blowout Kit, Jet Magazine, “I Am Curious (Black)” Comic Book, interactive on teen life

    Teens (black, white, and Latina) had money to spend, and advertisers began to see them as a unique, age-defined market in the 1950s. Marketers studied their buying habits on behalf of businesses and created advertising for everything from clothing to music. Although marketers focused on white girls, teens from diverse backgrounds created a growing culture that centered on the consumption of music, magazines, clothing, and rituals like the high school prom.
  • Sam Fuller and Joe Dudley – biography wall

    Sam Fuller and Joe Dudley were African American entrepreneurs who each got their start selling door-to-door. Fuller, the son of sharecroppers, moved to Chicago, where he established one of the largest black-owned businesses in America. “Wherever there is capitalism,” Fuller said, “there is freedom.”
  • Rosalind Brewer – biography wall, “Game Changers” video

    All business leaders have to innovate; a few rise to the level of “game changers.” Some of them fundamentally alter traditional business practices. Some blaze trails into new territories and technologies. And still others break through societal barriers. While not always successful, these game-changers leave their mark in business history. Rosalind Brewer, CEO of Sam’s club is one of the nation’s most prominent African American leaders.
  • Oprah Winfrey – biography wall

    Innovator in media—radio, television, film, and publishing—Winfrey began a globally recognized career as host of a syndicated talk show in 1986. With a nature both genuine and aggressive, she explored issues of national concern. A woman of considerable wealth, Winfrey became known throughout the world for her philanthropy.

Places of Invention
First Floor, West Wing

The exhibition features six communities representing what can happen when the right mix of inventive people, resources, and inspiring surroundings come together, including the Bronx, where hip-hop was invented in the 1970s. “Places of Invention” looks at hip-hop as both technically and culturally innovative, examining the way hip-hop DJs used transformed equipment with newly created techniques to make a new kind of music. An interactive activity allows visitors to learn scratching techniques through tutorials by DJ and producer J Rawls and hands-on application.

  • Technics 1200 Turntable with anachronistic DJing head, about 1979

    Two turntables and a mixer were intended to segue seamlessly between records, but hip-hop DJs used them to mix songs on two turntables. Lent by Rich Medina.
  • Koss Pro-4AA Headphones, 1972

    Grandmaster Flash invented the “peek-a-boo” system in which records could be heard in a pair of headphones without coming through the main sound system.
  • Rane Empath Mixer, Grandmaster Flash Model, about 2003-2006

    Mixers used by early hip-hop DJs were often inexpensive or even self-built. Grandmaster Flash turned microphone mixers into turntable mixers and later helped produce mixers designed for DJs like this one.
  • Technics SL-1200MK2 Turntable, about 1979

    Grandmaster Flash used this popular turntable. He said, “I would do 360 turns [on the turntable], cutting with my elbows, my mouth, and crazy stuff like that.”
  • E-mu Emulator Drum Sampler, 1985-1986

    Samplers could record and store sound, manipulate it, and play it back.  They could be used instead of records and turntables for sampling.
  • “Bustin’ Loose” Record by Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers, 1978

    Grandmaster Flash used this record while DJing. See the marks? Flash marked records to see at a glance where to start and stop the needle on the record—an invention he called “clock theory.”
  • Purple Haze” Flyer, 1979

    Yellow flyer with black print, bubble letters, and drawings. Early hip-hop flyers were an instrumental source of information about where to see hip-hop and also to promote DJs.
  • “Holloween Disco” Flyer, undated

    Black and White flyer with hand drawn images, quote bubbles, and two photographs of people. Early hip-hop flyers were an instrumental source of information about where to see hip-hop and also to promote DJs.
  • Sharp Multi-purpose Music System HK-9000 Boombox, about 1985

    Boomboxes brought hip-hop to anyone in hearing distance. This one belonged to Fab 5 Freddy, hip-hop visual artist, filmmaker, and former host of Yo! MTV Raps.
  • Fab 5 Freddy’s Boom Box

    This boom box was used by hip hop pioneer, visual artist, filmmaker, and cable television host, Fab 5 Freddy. He was the first host of the groundbreaking hip hop music video show, "Yo! MTV Raps," in the late 1980s.

Second Floor


  • Greensboro Lunch Counter
    Second Floor East (moves to Second Floor West, Summer 2017)

    On Feb. 1, 1960, four African American college students sat down at this “whites only” lunch counter at the Woolworth’s store in Greensboro, N.C. After politely asking for service, their request was refused, and when asked to leave, the students remained in their seats in protest.

American Stories
Second Floor, East Wing

A chronological look at the people, inventions, issues and events that shape the American experience, American Stories showcases historic and cultural touchstones of American history through more than 100 objects from the museum’s vast holdings.

  • Baseball signed by the player of the Negro Leagues 1920-45

    Segregation and racial violence throughout the U.S. in the early 1900s let black Americans to create separate institutions. Prohibited from playing on white teams, black players formed their own baseball teams and leagues. Negro Leagues games drew millions of fans until Jackie Robinson integrated the National League in 1947.
  • David Drake Poem Jar, 1862

    A large alkaline-glazed stoneware jar made by David Drake, an enslaved black potter working on Lewis Miles’ plantation pottery in the Edgefield District of South Carolina.  Drake is the only enslaved potter known to have signed and dated his work. This jar is also inscribed with an original two-line couplet written by Drake, “I made this jar all of cross, If you don[’]t repent you will be lost,”
  • Muhammad Ali’s Gloves

    Red boxing gloves used by Muhammad Ali, “The Greatest,” in 1974. The gloves were signed and donated by Ali to the museum in 1976.
  • NAACP Noisemaker

    This yellow noisemaker was used in 1995 to promote the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.  NAACP played a pivotal role in the civil rights movement and continues to advocate for social justice today.
  • Stoneware oyster jar, 1800–1803

    The trade in preserved oysters supplied work for potter Thomas H. Commeraw and oysterman Daniel Johnson, members of New York City’s vibrant community of free African Americans. Peter Kalm, a mid-eighteenth century visitor to New York, described the oyster business: “They are taken out of the shells fried in butter, put into a glass or earthen vessel with melted butter over them. . . Oysters prepared in this manner . . . are exported to the West Indies and other parts.”
  • Within These Walls…
    Second Floor, East Wing

    The exhibition tells the story of five families who lived in a house in Ipswich, Mass. over the course of 200 years, making history in their kitchens and parlors through everyday choices and personal acts of courage and sacrifice.

    The real stories of Chance Bradstreet and Abraham and Bethiah Dodge living together in this house reveal how enslaved people, white patriots, and women in New England helped build the nation during the Revolutionary era and its aftermath by seeking liberty in different ways; for all, their choices involved risk and uncertain outcome. Although the Revolutionary promises of liberty excluded enslaved people, the rhetoric and social instability of the Revolution in New England gave them new strategies to gain freedom and expand the meaning of liberty in a new nation. Fifty years later in 1836, two abolitionists, Lucy and Josiah Caldwell, moved into the house transforming it into a center for the anti-slavery movement. The two hosted meetings, provided accommodation to traveling abolitionist lecturers and worked to raise funds to end slavery.

Third Floor

The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden
Third Floor, Center

This exhibition explores the personal, public, ceremonial and executive actions of the 44 men who have had a huge impact on the course of history in the past 200 years.

  • Pen used by Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the 1965 Voting Rights Act

    After John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, Lyndon B. Johnson became president.  Continuing Kennedy’s reforms, Johnson pushed through the 1964 Civil Rights Act outlawing discrimination in employment, the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the 1968 Civil Rights Act barring discrimination in housing. Johnson used this pen to sign the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
  • President Barak Obama

    Easter egg and basketball

The First Ladies
Third Floor, Center

The exhibition features more than two dozen gowns from the Smithsonian’s 100-year old First Ladies Collection and explores the ways that different women have shaped the role of first lady to make their own contributions to the presidential administrations and the nation.

  • Michelle Obama’s Inaugural Gown

    This white, one shouldered, silk chiffon gown adorned with organza flowers and Swarovski crystals was designed by Jason Wu. First Lady Michelle Obama, wore this gown during President Barak Obama’s 2009 Inauguration.
  • Mary Lincoln’s Purple Velvet Ensemble

    This ensemble is believed to have been made by African American dressmaker Elizabeth Keckly and worn by the first lady during the winter social season of 1861–62. All three pieces are piped with white satin. The daytime bodice is trimmed with mother-of pearl buttons. Its lace collar is of the period but is not original to the bodice. The evening bodice is trimmed with lace and chenille fringed braid. 

The Price of Freedom: Americans at War
Third Floor, East Wing

Using a unique blend of more than 800 original artifacts, graphic images and interactive stations, the exhibition tells the stories of how Americans have fought from the Colonial era to the present to establish the nation’s independence, determine its borders, shape its values of freedom and opportunity and define its leading role in world affairs.

  • Iron Slave Collar

    Collars like this were placed on a slave in order to aid in tracking and disciplining them. Although this collar only has one prong, most collars had three and often had bells attached to the ends.
  • John Brown Pike

    This pike was among 950 pikes that abolitionist, John Brown, acquired to arm slaves incited to rebel by his raid on Harpers Ferry, W.Va. The raid grew out of an earlier plan he devised in the mid-1840s.
  • Sharps Carbine

    This .52 caliber Sharps Carbine was used during John Brown’s raid at Harpers Ferry, W.Va. in the fight against slavery.
  • U.S. Navy enlisted man’s jumper and neckerchief with flat hat

    There is no record of the specific individuals who wore these assembled pieces of a navy uniform, but the Union navy was integrated from the outset of the Civil War. By its end, around 15 percent of the navy, over 18,000 sailors, were African American. They were among the crews that manned the gunboats in the fight for Vicksburg, Mississippi.  Blacks and whites routinely worked and lived together on ships.
  • United States Colored Troops Flag

    At the outset of the war, the Union would not recruit African Americans, although escaped slaves, or contrabands, served in some units. But as the war progressed and casualties mounted, so did the need for more troops. In 1863, the Union began recruiting free blacks; eventually some 180,000 served. This flag belonged to the 84th Infantry Regiment, United States Colored Troops. The red stripes bear the regiment's name and number. The unit was organized April 4, 1864 and mustered out of service on March 14, 1866. It fought primarily in Louisiana with three other regiments of colored troops and a larger force of Union volunteers.
  • VOICES interactive station

    An actor gives life to the words of Spottswood Rice, an African American Union soldier, recalling his experience in the Civil War. 
  • Sergeant Major Christian Fleetwood’s Medal of Honor

    Fleetwood was one of twenty-five African Americans given the Medal of Honor for Civil War service. He received the medal for action at Chapin’s Farm, Virginia, in September 1864 where he “seized the colors, after 2 color bearers had been shot down, and bore them nobly through the fight.”
  • Buffalo soldier dress-uniform coat and helmet 

    In 1866 and 1867, the army recruited six regiments of African Americans for regular service, about 6,000 men. Organized as four infantry and two cavalry regiments, they participated in many actions against Indians. Because of their curly hair and fighting spirit, the Indians called them buffalo soldiers.
  • My View panel: Master Gunnery Sergeant William Michael Woods

    One million African Americans trained and served in segregated units, building strong bonds with their fellow soldiers but few across racial lines. Woods trained in 1942 at the segregated Marine Corps facility at Montford Point, North Carolina.
  • Red Ball Express patch

    Nearly 6,000 trucks, with mostly African American drivers, supported the Allied advance toward Paris in the summer and autumn of 1944. Trucks and their often weary, bone-rattled drivers were the last links in the logistical chain. In an operation dubbed the Red Ball Express, they transported almost 500,000 tons of supplies in three months.
  • GI Bill publications

    One-third or more of sixteen million U.S. veterans took advantage of the GI Bill’s educational benefits. In 1947, veterans were 49 percent of all college enrollments and they swelled the attendance at vocational schools. The bill gave African American veterans unprecedented educational opportunities.
  • VOICES interactive
    In this video, combat medic Clarence Sasser, recipient of the Medal of Honor, recalls his experience in Vietnam.
  • General Colin Powell’s Battle Dress Uniform

    On January 17, 1991, a coalition of American-led forces went to war to liberate oil-rich Kuwait from Iraqi occupation. Military leaders were determined that the war, which they designated Operation Desert Storm, would not be another Vietnam. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman General Colin Powell (left) ensured that the coalition used “overwhelming force. After massive air assaults, ground troops joined the attack. Then, in little more than 100 hours, the combined air-ground campaign freed Kuwait.

Jazz Concerts:

The Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra 2016-17 Season: Jazz and Democracy

The 26th season of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra (SJMO) celebrates the history of jazz and democracy in America. Join the SJMO, led by Charlie Young, as they explore how jazz has influenced American civil rights, identity, culture, and history. The 2016–17 season will present a series of five concerts that will feature musical compositions, instruments and archives from the museum's collections, special guest performers, and more. Concerts will be held in the museum’s two music venues: the Wallace H. Coulter Performance Plaza featuring unique cabaret-style seating, and the museum's new performance space, the Hall of Music, on the third floor featuring an intimate concert setting with views of the Washington Monument.

Upcoming in 2017


Creating America
June 28 – September 2, 2017 (Wednesdays – Saturdays)

The National Museum of American History will offer presentations of its new interactive dramatic experience to celebrate the opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. The program focuses on how African American students participated in the ongoing process of building America and bringing the nation closer to living up to its ideals. Taking place four times a day in front of the iconic Greensboro Lunch Counter and within view of NMAAHC on the second floor east, the performance will highlight NMAAHC and welcome it to the family of Smithsonian museums.

Exhibitions Opening 2017 and 2018:

Many Voices One Nation, July 2017
Second Floor, West Wing

The exhibition will present the 500-year journey of how many distinct peoples and cultures met, mingled, and collectively created a distinct American culture. Migrations brought new peoples, new languages, new religions, new foods, new ideas and new technological innovations into the American experience. The result is the nation we have built together. This exhibition will use family and place-based case studies to highlight the dynamic changes that have occurred across the U.S.

American Democracy, July 2017
Second Floor, West Wing

The exhibition explores how a nation committed to the principles of popular sovereignty, debated how to make this idealistic vision work and what living in a democracy really means. Covering the American past from the Revolution to the present, this exhibition will trace the unfolding of Americans’ experiment through the museum’s rich collections to examine our founding political principles, forms of popular political participation, and citizenship in a pluralistic society. Objects on display will include Thomas Jefferson’s portable desk, used to draft the Declaration of Independence; the inkstand Lincoln used to draft the Emancipation Proclamation, and the table on which Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote the Declaration of Sentiments.

On With the Show, Summer 2018
Third Floor, West Wing

This exhibition will be an exciting and dynamic display of the history of American entertainment, sports, and culture and how they have shaped American identity and the national experience. Drawing on the rich and diverse holdings of the National Museum of American History, the exhibition will appeal to audiences of all ages.


African American History Program

The African American History Program offers learning opportunities based on the stories, objects, and culture of African Americans in order to inspire a broader understanding of the past and work toward a better future. The program began as the Program in Black American Culture in 1972 as a research group to develop the African Diaspora program at the Smithsonian’s Festival of American Folklife. It became part of the National Museum of American History in 1982.  The program’s many symposia, festivals, workshops, and other multifaceted events have explored abundant rich topics and contributed tremendously to the understanding of African American history and culture. Vocalist, scholar, and civil rights activist Bernice Johnson Reagon founded the program and served as its director until 1989. Gwendolyn Robinson served as director from 1989 to 1992. As director from 1992 until 2003, Niani Kilkenny continued the important work of the program, honoring those who put their bodies on the line as activists in the Civil Rights Movement and exploring numerous significant topics. Christopher W. Wilson became the director in 2004.  The program’s recordings of activists and witnesses with living memory of the freedom struggle, scholars, artists and others are available to researchers through the Archives Center at the National Museum of American History and the Smithsonian Institution Archives. You can view samples of the program’s video resources on our YouTube playlist

About the Museum

The National Museum of American History explores the infinite richness and complexity of American history through its collections and research. The museum helps people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future. It is currently renovating its west exhibition wing, developing galleries on business, democracy and culture. For more information, visit The museum is located at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W., and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). To learn more about the museum, check Admission is free. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.


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