The National Museum of African American History and Culture Is The Blackest Thing I’ve Ever Seen This Week…and Ever
I’ve been to the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) twice so far – yes, that was a stunt – and it is easily the second Blackest place I’ve ever been in life. The Blackest? I’m glad you asked. That would be in the southeastern quadrant of Washington, DC, where Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue intersects with Malcolm X Avenue; this corner features a liquor store, a park full of vagabonds, and the coup de grace: Popeye’s.
It is indeed, the Blackest place in America. In fact, I contend that the Blackest thing you can do in this country is eat some Popeye’s chicken wearing a dashiki while listening to DC’s own Marvin Gaye at this intersection. Ask about me. Photos coming soon.
Back to the NMAAHC, it’s a beautiful Black ass place and I love it. It wasn’t just that every 10th person had on a dashiki on opening day, or that there were people wearing tuxedos standing next to people in graphic tees with Black fists standing in line together to get in. Nor was it that all three verses of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” are inscribed on one of the walls as people hummed while they read. Or even the fact that the cafeteria specifically made sure to have good, quality soul food – appropriately named the Sweet Home Café – and the smell permeates the third floor so much that you are almost lifted off your feet and wafted towards the catfish.
It’s that there were so many Black people looking at so much Black stuff feeling so much Black pride in accomplishments of both those exhibited throughout the museum, but of the museum itself. It is a marvel. It’s expansive. It’s huge. It’s awesome. And yes, that is all what she said. Every person who has been will undoubtedly tell you that it is impossible to fully take in the museum in one sitting. You just can’t. There are too many exhibits and too many floors. You could easily spend an entire day on the bottom floor itself.
In fact, let’s talk about the layout.
There are what seems to be 7 floors, three below ground and four above ground. The below ground levels are where I’d imagine most people would start their journey. You have to go downstairs into a dark and cavernous hallway exhibit that takes you from the 1400s and the beginnings of the slave trade (it feels like you’re in the hull of a slave ship, figuratively, of course) all the way through the civil rights era of the 60s. There are so many facts. So. Many. Facts. There is an actual slave shack.
Read that again.
There is an actual, in tact, slave shack from South Carolina that was built in about 1853 and was STILL erect on its original site in 2013. Nevermind that whoever built that shack has to be the greatest engineer of all time, but it’s an actual slave shack where somebody’s cousins use to live. There is an exhibit that has the names of all of the slaves at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello who helped build it. There’s Harriet Tubman’s shawl and Nat Turner’s bible (speaking of Nat Turner and thus Nate Parker, can SOMEBODY please take away the microphone from him at all times; he’s now on the “Don’t Be Their Publicist” Hall of Fame with Chris Brown, Isaiah Washington, and Donald Trump). There are whips. There are chains. There are pieces of a slave boat. It’s deep. It’s moving.
As you move up the ramps, you head to the 2nd level which moves towards Blacks early settling in all Black towns and political movements and into the Civil Rights era. There is a guard tower from Angola prison in Louisiana. There is a Jim Crow railroad car with its split whites only and Blacks only cabins. There are ALL the “White’s Only” signs making you realize just how creative white people were back then because SO MANY DIFFERENT TYPES OF SIGNS. There are Woolworth’s lunchcounter chairs. There are the minstrel toys.
There is Emmett Till’s casket.
Look, I’ve been to a lot of museums. Mine eyes have seen the glory, but there was something about looking at the casket that once held the mutilated body of Emmett Till that was jarring. To be Black in America is to know the story of Emmett Till. Obviously he is not IN that casket, but to know that once upon a time, the body of a boy who became a lynchpin of the Civil Rights Movement for doing nothing more than being a boy was difficult.
As you move further up the ramps are videos depicting the various parts of the struggle and of Black life in general.
Oprah Winfrey’s couch. Hip-hop. And that’s all just on the journey from slavery to the present. On the top floors are various galleries dedicated to sports, music, culture, military, art, etc. Blackness is all around you. I’ve been twice and still haven’t seen it all. And despite my HISTORIC musical leanings, I still didn’t see the music level which based on conversations I’ve had with people, that level was tailor-made for me.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that fact that Dr. Ben Carson of “Gifted Hands” fame and current “bish whet” fame also has a very prominent exhibit. As I walked by I noted that I’ll bet every Black person just walks by, looks at it and shakes their had disapprovingly, to which a couple standing there busted out laughing and agreed. It’s an SNL skit in the making if I’ve ever seen one.
On Wednesday – the last time I went, I was also able to go on Opening Day though the sheer number of people plus pushing a tandem stroller made it fairy impassable – I remarked to my best friend that I didn’t ever want to leave. There was so much to see and so much Blackness all around that felt good that I couldn’t see a good reason to actually leave the museum, seeing my children again, notwithstanding.
And to make it even more Black, advanced tickets for the museum are actually “sold out” through the end of the year, though limited day passes will be made available everyday for that day only. The museum is a wonder and it’s a treasure, and at night it lights up with pictures and even a “Black Lives Matter” slide show. It don’t get no Blacker than that.
Forever? Forever ever?
You should go.