The new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. opened to much fanfare on Saturday, September 24, with speeches from—among others—Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, as well as celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Will Smith.
The museum has been a long time coming: The project was finally authorized in 2003, after a decades of unsuccessful legislative attempts to gain funding, beginning in the 1970s and renewed with vigor in 1988. The concept of a federally owned museum of African-American history can be traced back as far 1915, making this, in all likelihood, the longest-awaited and shamefully overdue museum in U.S. history.
The building itself was designed by a team of firms that operated under the name Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroupJJR, who were awarded the project after winning a competition in 2009. They were faced with the task of designing not just a building, but a symbol, to be placed on the National Mall, itself already rife with symbolic architecture. Obviously, this was no easy thing.
"This building was...where everything would mean something. Without the symbolism, it would leave a vacuum," lead designer David Adjaye told our architecture critic, Alexandra Lange. And as lead architect Phil Freelon put it, "It is a museum for all of us, not just African-Americans. There is a lot to be learned about ourselves as Americans."