With about 85,000 square feet of exhibition space, there's a lot of ground to cover in the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture and you may not be able to see it all in one trip. Here are 10 things you must see when you visit the National Mall's newest museum.
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 14: An interactive touch screen is part of a exhibit about civil rights lunch counter sit-ins at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall September 14, 2016 in Washington, DC. Filled with exhibits and artifacts telling the story of the first Africans in the United States and their descendents, the 400,000-square-foot museum will open to the public on September 24. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
A statue of former U.S. President Thomas Jefferson stands in front of the names of some of the 600 slaves he owned in his lifetime. The statues of slaves stand in the shadow of an etched excerpt of Jefferson's Declaration of Independence. The powerful display is one of the first visitors will see when they enter the museum's exhibition on slavery and freedom.
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
Curators from the National Museum of African American History and Culture scoured the United States for a slave cabin to display in the museum. The Edisto Island Historic Preservation Society in South Carolina heard the Smithsonian was looking for a cabin and donated a weatherboard-clad cabin they were having a hard time preserving. The cabin once housed slaves at the Point of Pines Plantation on Edisto Island. Museum curators are currently working to find the descendants of the slaves who may have lived in the cabin.
"Welcome to the Lunch Counter" is an interactive touch screen quiz that allows visitors to experience the protests of the Civil Rights era. Guests can pick from several types of protests, including sit-ins and freedom rides. As visitors sit at the replica lunch counter, they learn about the harrowing experiences protesters endured while answering questions about what they would have done if they found themselves in the same situation.
Inside the Sports exhibit on the museum's third floor is a space dedicated to game changers. Photos and memorabilia from athletes like boxer Jack Johnson, tennis player Althea Gibson and track star Jesse Owens are featured, along with the stories of how they broke the color line.
Stop by the Sweet Home Café for a chance to sample traditional soul food dishes from the Creole Coast, North States, Agricultural South and Western Range. Gumbo, Son-of-a-Gun stew, pan-roasted oysters and slow-cooked collards are among the delicious meals on the sprawling cafeteria's menu. “One of the best ways to get to know a culture is through its food,” said Chef Carla Hall, co-host of ABC’s The Chew and culinary ambassador for Sweet Home Café, Before you leave, be sure to check out the murals, classic movie posters and lunch boxes posted along the cafe's walls.
Chuck Berry's Cadillac is prominently features in the museum's Musical Crossroads exhibition. Gifted by Berry, the car is part of the rock icon's personal fleet of Cadillacs. The museum says the candy apple red convertible was driven during the filming of Hail! Hail! Rock ’n’ Roll, a 1987 documentary that chronicles two 1986 concerts.
Visitors to the museum can become a part of the story by recording their thoughts and reflections in one of several reflection rooms. The story you tell is up to you. Guests can share personal stories or share their thoughts about the exhibits they've seen. The stories will later be used online, in future exhibits or on the museum's social media accounts.
Instruments, costumes and other artifacts fill the Taking the Stage section of the fourth floor Culture Galleries at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture. Costumes once worn by Lena Horne in "Stormy Weather" and Lupita Nyong'o in "12 Years a Slave" are housed behind a glass case. Guests may also find themselves transfixed by the montage of clips featuring old and new television shows.
Guests can tap into their musical side at the "In the Studio Producer Console." Melodies and rhythms from popular songs and genres can be dragged onto a timeline, allowing guests to create their own song. But be quick! The experience is timed to give other guests a chance to flex their creative muscle.
The museum's "Neighborhood Record Store" is filled with copies of classic album covers. But the best part is the interactive "record player" in middle of the room. Visitors can play songs from various genres, including musical theater, hip hop and go-go.