Feb 14, 2017
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6 African American Museum Destinations

“If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it," said the great African American author Toni Morrison. In that spirit, the United States has recently seen the opening of three major African American history museums, all seeking to tell once-neglected stories in a powerful way. They join other, long-standing institutions that have been doing this work for decades. Here are six worth traveling to see.

National Museum of African American History and Culture

Harriet Tubman's shawl. Chuck Berry’s red Cadillac convertible. Louis Armstrong's trumpet. These are just some of the 34,000 artifacts in the collection of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, a new museum opened in Washington D.C.’s National Mall on September 24, 2016.

The museum’s exhibits reflect the major periods of African American history, from African origins through slavery, reconstruction, the civil rights era, the Harlem Renaissance and the modern day. A water- and light-filled memorial called the Contemplative Court invites visitors to pause and think about their experience at the museum. The three-tiered, bronze-clad building's design was intended to lift visitors "up into the light," architect David Adjaye says. "It’s not a story of a people that were taken down, but actually a people that overcame and transformed an entire superpower into what it is today." [1]

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is on Constitution Avenue between 14th and 15th streets N.W. Tickets are free, and may be reserved in advance or claimed at the museum (weekdays only).

Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History

Founded in 1965, Detroit’s Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History is one of the leading institutions dedicated to the African American experience. Dr. Charles Wright was an obstetrician and gynecologist who felt called to fulfill an important mission: “ensuring that generations, especially young African Americans, are made aware of and take pride in the history of their forbears and their remarkable struggle for freedom.” [2] 

The Wright Museums' signature permanent exhibit, “And Still We Rise,” carries visitors from Africa and the horrors of the slave trade through the fight for equality and civil rights, ending with “a legacy of freedom and justice in past and present-day Detroit.” The Wright Museum also has experiences and exhibits for children, including one on black scientists and inventors.

The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History is located at 315 East Warren Avenue in Detroit. Tickets are $5-$8, and the museum is open Tuesday through Sunday except in February, when it opens on Mondays as well.

DuSable Museum of African American History

One of the oldest African-American history museums is the DuSable, founded in 1961.[3] The DuSable’s mission is not only to preserve history, but to inspire its visitors by celebrating the achievements of black Americans. There, you’ll find the work of writers like Gwendolyn Brooks and Richard Wright; the desk of reporter Ida B. Wells; and a permanent exhibit on African-Americans in the U.S. armed forces. One recent exhibit displayed 52 quilts from the collection of noted African-American quilt scholar Cuesta Benberry. An online exhibit, called Freedom and Resistance, is an absorbing collection of documents, stories and videos related to the ongoing battle for equality. Guests are invited to share their own experiences, too, creating an ever-growing archive.

The DuSable Museum of African American History is located at 740 East 56th Place in Chicago. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday. Tickets are $3 to $10, and admission is free on Tuesdays.

Whitney Plantation

For years, tours of Southern plantation houses went something like this: Enter through the grand front doors, marvel at the furniture and gardens, and learn about the owners' history. The slaves whose involuntary labor produced all this wealth may have been mentioned briefly, or not at all.

Whitney Plantation, about 35 miles west of New Orleans, turns that experience around entirely. When it opened in 2014, the plantation became the nation's first museum dedicated to honoring the lives of enslaved Africans. It intends not only to educate visitors but to memorialize slavery's sorrows. Around the property stand 40 statues of slave children by artist Woodrow Nash, a testament to the suffering of the young. A display of 60 ceramic heads represents the brutal execution and beheading of enslaved people who revolted in 1811. "Like Maya Lin’s memorial, the Whitney has figured out a way to mourn those we as a society are often reluctant to mourn," said Tulane history professor Laura Rosanne Adderley.[4]

Whitney Plantation, at 5099 Highway 18 in Wallace, La., is open every day except Tuesdays and major holidays. Tickets are $10-$22.

African American Museum of Dallas

A hidden treasure in the heart of Dallas, this museum has robust collections of African American artwork. Its fine-art exhibitions include works by famous artists whose work celebrated the black American experience: Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden and Benny Andrews. The museum also displays photography, African art and one of the largest folk-art collections in the U.S. [5] The “Facing the Rising Sun” multimedia exhibit tells the story of what was once the largest African American enclave in Dallas.

The African American Museum of Dallas, at 3536 Grand Avenue, is open Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is $1-$2; a guided tour is $3-$5.

National Center for Civil and Human Rights

Sit down at the lunch counter inside the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, put on a set of headphones, and you can vividly imagine what it felt like to be a sit-in protester in the 1950s. Shouts and taunts echo in your ears, and the stool itself vibrates as if someone has kicked it.

The National Center for Civil and Human Rights opened in 2014 in downtown Atlanta to immerse visitors in the struggle for civil rights in America, as well as the global fight to protect basic human rights. The experience is moving and unsettling, visitors say. The center also displays a rotating selection of objects from the Morehouse College Martin Luther King, Jr. Collection. You might see King's handwritten notes, speeches, sermons, and even his to-do lists.

The National Center for Civil and Human Rights is open daily at 100 Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard. Tickets are $14.25-$18.25.

Other new African American history museums

The International African American Museum in Charleston will depict the lives and unique culture of African-Americans in the Lowcountry region when it opens in 2019. The museum's planned for the former Gadsden’s Wharf site on the Cooper River, where more than 100,000 enslaved Africans entered the United States. [6] And the National Museum of African American Music is expected to open in Nashville in 2019, with the goal of preserving the legacy and celebrating the contributions of African American musicians.

Planning a trip to see one of these museums? Don't forget to protect your vacation with travel insurance from Allianz Global Assistance.

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