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Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture

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The $540 million Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, explores the history, sense of community and the culture of African Americans. The museum, which opened September 2016,  has the space–400,000 square feet–to create a rich, multi-layered story.

Visitors start underground with exhibits on the slave trade and on slavery. Among the many artifacts are shackles used to restrain captured Africans as they suffered through the long “Middle Passage,” the sea voyage from their homeland to the New World, as well as a slave cabin and an auction block. Ascend from the lowest level and the exhibits change. They focus on post-Civil War, and segregation. The upper levels are filled with voices, stories, and images of struggle and strength. These include the buttressing support of black communities and religion, the dedication of African Americans who served in the military from the Revolution through the Civil War and both World Wars, despite segregation, and the triumphs of barrier-breaking athletes, musicians, singers, artists, and writers.

Ticketing: Admission is always free. Through Etix  online, the museum releases advanced timed passes monthly, generally for admission 3-months in advance. Check the museum’s site for release dates. Book tickets for this popular museum as soon as they are released.  Same-day tickets:  Check online starting at 6:30 am.  Starting at 1 pm on weekdays, the museum releases a limited number of same-day tickets–one per person. Lines form much earlier.

Tip:  Admission: Sometimes people have extra tickets. When I suggested to desperate family members who didn’t reserve ahead to go to the museum to see if anyone waiting in line had extra tickets, my relatives were lucky. They obtained two tickets. This is a long shot.

Food: The museum’s Sweet Home Cafe offers some of the best Mall fare. The items taste good and they  help further the museum’s goals by presenting dishes that illustrate the impact of African American cooking on the U.S.’s culinary scene.  Try gulf shrimp and grits, buttermilk fried chicken, Caribbean-style pepper pot, and pan-roasted rainbow trout.


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