Gettin’ woke in DC
How 2 days in a museum changed my life.
The National Museum of African American
History and Culture
I gave myself 2 days. Probably needed an extra day. 6 hours was as much as I could do without pangs of hunger and heavy legs and eyes begging me for an extended break. I do not consider myself a museum person. I’ve been fortunate to explore the Louvre, the Centre Pompidou, the Tate Gallery, the Met, the Guggenheim and countless others and yet, aside from instantly appreciating the work, I’m usually left with very few lasting memories. All that changed recently.
As a tour guide, I have led various groups through the nation’s capital for years. The Museums surrounding the National Mall, making up the Smithsonian Institute, are a required stop. Generally, tour groups are given between 2 and 5 hours, an insufficient amount of time, to explore the museums of Natural History (the Hope Diamond), Air and Space (Spirit of St. Louis) American History (dresses of the First Ladies) and any of the 11 museums and galleries, all free to the public, yet subject to long security lines. Packed with this knowledge and travelling solo, it felt like a dream to be able to guide only myself from the Hyatt Centric in Arlington http://hyatt.com across the Potomac via the efficient metro system, 4 stops and a short walk to the Smithsonian.
I find it difficult at best to articulate the experience. I arrived early before the 10a opening and, as it was off-season October, no reservations were needed and the line was only 4 people. It is a comprehensive look at the African American experience from slavery’s beginning in the 1400’s to present day. At times emotional, frustrating, horrific, hilarious and inspiring all at once, I learned more in those two 6-hour days than in all my years at university on 2 continents.
The slideshow only shows a few of the thousands of exhibits, galleries and items of interest. It’s an amazing collection. Multi-leveled, I was advised by one of the many helpful volunteers, to start on the lowest level and make my way up. Beginning with slavery, I immersed myself in the collection through the Tubman period, the Civil War, emancipation and reconstruction, segregation, Civil rights, sports, entertainment, music, art, dance to Barack Obama and everything in between. I needed another day. I walked out of there so satisfied, so proud, with the feeling that people of all races should visit the museum, and they are. I heard multiple languages and saw people of all sizes and colors during my visit. Highly advisable to arrive early and be prepared for the crowds. Even in October, by 11am, the place was packed with people, mostly going through the museum like I used to, on a sprint.
Pierre Charles L’Enfant designed Washington DC to near perfection. Like Paris, it’s a beautiful city of wide lanes and tree lined streets. A visit to the nation’s capital is an absolute must. One could spend a week there and not see everything. I must recommend the vibrant theatre and food scenes with Fords theatre, the Arena Stage (I saw August Wilsons Jitney there, fantastic) and the Kennedy Center delighting audiences with world class productions. I went with the sole focus on the museum and it did not disappoint. Lunch at Legal’s Seafood on 7th Street NW and their famous clam chowder is a regular stop for me. http://legalseafoods.com
National Museum of African American History and Culture
1400 Constitiution Avenue, NW, Washington DC 20560
Phone: (844) 750-3012