All day everyday I love being black. But there are certain moments in my life I’m especially proud to be made of large doses of melanin and #BlackGirlMagic fairy dust. Historic moments like the election of the first black president, watching Taraji P. Henson in a room full of white people, the Babyface tribute at the 2015 Soul Train awards and anytime a black person wins a reality show competition, just to name a few.
This past weekend I experienced arguably the proudest, blackest, dopest moment of my being when I visited the majesty that is the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Cool is blasphemous and awesome is an understatement. Seven levels of thoughtfulness, history, pain, triumph and flyness, it exceeded the hype, forever crystallized my black card and reaffirmed that to be black is to be part of a legacy and culture that has continuously been dope AF.
For starters, the people alone will make you raise your fist in pride. Every level and type of blackness bared witness to the NMAAHC and it was glorious. It was as if the Cosby’s, Evans family, Jeffersons, Radio Raheem and Love and Hip Hop cast all made the pilgrimage to DC. Fros, locs, dashikis, blazers, Black Lives Matter T-shirts, sneakers and heels (these women are the real MVPs) everywhere, the pride we as people have for the museum is evident upon entry in the fact that we were delectably us.
Oh, and be prepared to wait. The place was packed and will likely stay packed until forever. There’s a ticketed admission process and while our ticket was for 2:45p.m., we didn’t officially enter the building and commence our tour until about 4:30p.m. (Tip 1: If you have to use the bathroom, go to the lower level by the Oprah Winfrey Theater. The bathroom lines are non-existent there. I learned this the hard way after a 25-minute wait on the main level with 15 church mothers).
So let’s get started. First off, no matter your level of woke there is something for you. Although you’ll be inclined to run around the entire museum yelling “Mama I made it!” at the top of your lungs upon entry, focus, take a deep breath, put your crap in one of the beautiful wooden lockers and start your journey from the bottom up. As our prophetic, evangelic elevator operator put it, “you begin in slavery and bondage, and work your way up to freedom.” #Preach.
We began our journey toward freedom in the lowest level of the museum, which focuses on the Middle Passage and the American Slave Trade. As you walk into the dimly lit, intentionally tight space (meant to reflect the tightness of slave ships), you can’t help but to shift into reflection mode when three steps into the exhibit you’re confronted with real-life slave shackles perfectly sized to fit an adult, child and infant. Oh, and there’s a real slave cabin in there. I repeat a real slave cabin. There’s also a draft of the Declaration of Independence, Nat Turner’s bible, Harriet Tubman’s shawl and hymnal, slave records documenting a slave’s productivity, sharecropping tools and a rawhide field whip gifted by Oprah Winfrey. Why does Oprah happen to have a field whip lying around the house? I’m not quite sure other than the fact that she’s Oprah and Oprah does things like that, but the ish is amazing.
After you’ve cried, reflected and thanked those who’ve come before you, next up is the era of segregation. For a history buff and Civil Rights Movement obessionist (new word) like myself, this exhibit was a favorite. In addition to more Civil Rights gems then my little black soul could handle, like the actual counter and stool from the Greensboro Woolworth’s sit-ins, Marcus Garvey’s hat and shattered glass from the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, this exhibit also houses Emmett Till’s coffin. Get ready for another long line, as this is one of the most popular attractions in the entire museum.
Upon entering the room you’re immediately transported to 1955 Chicago where Till’s funeral was held. With Mahalia Jackson singing in the background, Till’s casket resting under a somber light, and the haunting words and images of Mamie Till etched throughout the room, this one is worth the wait. Bring tissues.
Two months ago I had a nice apartment in Chicago. I had a good job. I had a son. When something happened to the Negroes in the South I said, `That’s their business, not mine.’ Now I know how wrong. I was. The murder of my son has shown me that what happens to any of us, anywhere in the world, had better be the business of us all. – Mamie Till
I’m not ‘gonna lie, after all of this, my spirit needed a food break. Nestled in the lower level of the museum, the Sweet Home Café is everything you’d imagine your school cafeteria to be if you auntie was the head cook. With food options that include Cajun, Creole and traditional Soul Food, Big Mama, by way of celebrity chef Carla Harris, had her hands all over the menu. Tip 2: The shrimp and grits and Mac-n-Cheese will hand you your life.
The upper two levels of the museum are basically an explosion of black excellence in the best way possible. With an entire floor dedicated primarily to sports and another to the arts, you could easily spend one day on these two levels alone. Ya’ll this place is so friggin’ awesome. There’s an art gallery inside the museum. A gotdang art gallery filled to the brim with black art about black life by black artists.
Chuck Berry’s car is here. Whitney Houston’s AMA dress is here. Michael Jordan’s 1996 championship jersey is here. Muhammad Ali’s boxing gloves are here. Madam CJ Walker’s hair straightening system is here. Quincy Jones’ recording equipment is here. Michelle Obama’s dress is here. Oprah’s TV set is here. Sherman Hemsley’s suit is here. Garrett Morgan’s gas mask is here. JJ Walker’s hat is here. There’s a hot comb, church hat and Afro pick display. Bootsy Collin’s suit, a Phat Farm sweater, Maurice White’s jumpsuit, Prince’s tambourine, Althea Gibson’s racket and a pair of Air Force 1’s are here. Ugh! It’s so flunkin’ black and awesome!
All in all, it took roughly six hours to explore the entire museum and make a pit stop in the Sweet Home Café. If you have to pack your visit into one day, it can be done but bring your walking shoes and be prepared for a round two, three and four. Personally, I’d recommend breaking your trip into two days. Although I made it to all six levels, I’m already planning my next trip because I’m sure there’s a ton of stuff I missed. Like the reflection room, which is exactly what it sounds like and will put even the deepest of deep to shame.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture is what joy is made of. A time capsule paying homage to centuries of pain, power, pride, culture, triumph and swag, it’s #BlackJoy #BlackGirlMagic, #BlackExcellence and any other reaffirming hashtag you can throw on it. You remember that scene in Why Did I Get Married where Jill Scott’s character does the ultimate exhale and releases a resounding “OH!”? Expect to do that after you leave the museum.
Bottom line, grab ya kids, grab ya wife and get to DC to experience it for yourself. Your blackness will thank you.