I descended down into the lower level floors, watching the dates go back in time as we continued down three floors underground. Through the clear elevator glass, the dates 1950, 1880, 1860, 1800, 1750, 1650, 1500, 1400 acted as my guide until the elevator stopped. Immediately upon its opening I heard the voices of the oppressed, talking to us that were entering the room, describing the atrocities they experienced on the slave ships which embarked upon the Middle Passage. I wasn’t reading about it, I was there.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture undertook such a complex and difficult endeavor in capturing the African American experience for all Americans, and from my perspective, they succeeded. The entire museum is curated in such a way that does not just place these important documents, images, and artifacts in rooms to be seen, but more viscerally, to be felt. In some rooms, quotes line the glass that contextualize what is seen when looking beyond. In others, recordings of diaries read, interviews given, or actual news stories place you right there, amidst what was going on. Bricks built with the names of Thomas Jefferson’s slaves surround him. A red flag of slave auctions sits across the Bible of Nat Turner, juxtaposing the Good Word with the Bad deeds of the enslavers he rebelled against. When you walk from era to era, gaining elevation back up to the ground floor, you can look out and see the expanse of history you just went through, riddled with paradox.
This post could be 10 times as long as I am making it; there was so much to be in awe of at the museum. In hopes that you will go and see for yourself, however, I will cut it short. Go and see the NMAAHC. Go walk the floors of the African American experience, an American Experience. No matter how long you are there, you will wish you had more time.