On Exhibit: An Act to establish the NMAAHC

National Museum of African American History and Culture, 2016. (Photo by Alan Karchmer, courtesy of Smithsonian Institution)

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) officially opens on September 24, 2016, on the National Mall.

It is the 19th and newest Smithsonian Institution museum and is devoted to documenting African American life, history, and culture.

The museum was established by a December 16, 2003, act of Congress, but efforts to create a national museum dedicated to African American history and culture dates to the early 20th century.

In 1915, African-American veterans of the Union Army met in Washington, DC, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. After facing discrimination and segregation in the nation’s capital, the veterans formed a committee to build a memorial to honor African Americans’ service to the country.

The committee’s efforts eventually led to 1929 legislation authorizing a National Memorial Commission to construct a memorial building as a tribute to African American achievements.

National Memorial Association pamphlet 1
Pamphlet showing proposed design for the National Memorial Building, ca. 1927. (Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives)

The law had a condition that private capital would be needed. Because of the stock market crash and subsequent Great Depression, the commission was not able to raise the necessary funds.

S. 277, A bill to Authorize the Establishment of the National African American Museum Within the Smithsonian Institution, 1993 (did not pass). (ARC Identifier 6036654)

In the 1970s and 1980s, there was a renewed interest in such a museum but Congress failed to pass the necessary legislation.

After a long legislative struggle, the museum was finally authorized in 2003, and its site on the Mall finalized in 2006.

When the museum was authorized it had no collection. However, after years of work to populate its archives, the museum has collected more than 36,000 artifacts and has nearly 100,000 charter members.

On Saturday, September 24, 2016, the museum will hold an outdoor dedication ceremony. In the afternoon the museum will officially open to the public.

For more information visit the NMAAHC website.

In celebration of the opening of the NMAACH, a 1927 pamphlet showing an early design for an African American memorial museum, and the act that was ultimately passed in 2003 will be on display in the East Rotunda Gallery from September 1 to November 9, 2016.

NMAAHC Act pg 1
National Museum of African American History and Culture Act, December 16, 2003. (General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives)
NMAAHC Act sig pg
National Museum of African American History and Culture Act, December 16, 2003. (General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives)