National African American Museum on Schedule for 2015 Opening

With its foundation laid, the National Museum of African American History and Culture is starting to take shape on its five-acre site near the Washington Monument.

The $500 million museum, the 19th of the Smithsonian Institution, opens to the public in November 2015. Officials expect crews to meet the deadline for opening.

Since 2003, the Smithsonian Regents,  Congress and the Council for the National Museum of African American History and Culture have worked to make major decisions in the museum’s development.  The decisions  include the planning, design and construction of the museum along with the administration and acquisition of objects for the museum’s various collections.

“Building a museum on the last available space on the National Mall and under the scrutiny of numerous regulatory agencies is extremely complicated,” said LaFleur Paysour, spokeswoman for the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

“For that reason, the Smithsonian retained the architectural team of Freelon Adjaye Bond in October 2007 to spend 18 months examining the various needs of the museum, from acoustics to technology and fire protection.”

Paysour says that it is important that these  features be included in the final design of the building because all these programmatic decisions will have an impact on the architectural work.

Since groundbreaking in February 2012, construction on the museum has progressed rapidly in order to meet construction deadlines.

“Changing America: The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863 and the March on Washington, 1963” is the most current exhibition in the National Museum of African American History’s Gallery in partnership with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

With its initial opening in December 2012, the exhibit commemorates the historical significance of both pivotal achievements as veritable game changers in the century long journey for freedom. Artifacts in the exhibit highlight key people and events such as the shards of glass from the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Alabama, Harriet Tubman’s lace handkerchief, the pen used by President Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the top hat President Abraham Lincoln wore when he was assassinated at Ford’s Theater.

The exhibition runs until Sept. 7.

Special features in the museum’s design include an inverse truncated pyramid called the Corona, which will be covered with bronze-coated panels. This design of panels is inspired by the African American made wrought iron grilles from slaveship port cities like Charleston and New Orleans. Additionally, the museum has been designed as a seven-level structure with more that 374,000 square feet  underground. It also will be  the first “green” museum built on the National Mall.

 The total  cost for the museum’s architectural design, construction and installation of permanent exhibitions is $500 million. U.S. taxpayers contributed half of the funds. The balance comes from private sector donors such as  The Coca Cola Company, Time Warner, Walmart, Goldman Sachs and The Oprah Winfrey Foundation.

“With nine exhibitions opening in 2015, there certainly will be something for everyone,” Paysour said.  “People with a deep interest in the Civil Rights Movement will be moved by what they see in exhibitions exploring slavery and freedom, segregation and the turbulent, nation-changing 1960s.

“The Living Culture exhibitions will speak to the hearts of people interested in music – from jazz to gospel to hip hop – and dance and theater, and the Harlem Renaissance and sports.”

A 77 ton Jim Crow-era rail car and a 19th century Angola, Louisiana, prison guard tower were the first iconic artifacts installed in November 2013. The segregated Southern Railway car No. 1200 seated 44 “white” and “colored” passengers serving routes in the South from 1940-1960. After an 18-month restoration, the rail car was donated to the museum by Pete Claussen, chairman and chief executive of Gulf & Ohio Railways, who also serves as a member of the Smithsonian National Board.

Acquired from the Louisiana State Penitentiary in 2012, the Angola prison tower was built between 1930 and 1940. It was used in Camp H and stood 21 feet tall. Confederate Maj. Samuel James initially bought the 8,000-acre plantation and named it after the slaves’ African homeland.

The museum also will  be the home to a vast array of collections designed to illustrate major periods of African American history-beginning with African origins and following the history of black Americans up to the 21st Century. Collection highlights include: A Vintage Tuskegee Airmen’s Plane, The Harriet Tubman Collection featuring 39 objects such as her hymnal and family photographs from her funeral, A Jim Crow Rail Car from 1922, Emmett Till’s glass-topped coffin and Nat Turner’s hymnal.

“Having a museum dedicated to sustaining and revisiting the history of African American culture on the National Mall, is a pivotal moment because it represents how far we have come,” said Leandra Stubbs, 22, program assistant at The National Institute of Mental Health in Washington. “This museum will have the ability to impact younger generations giving them a better understanding of American history and instilling in the black community black pride, afro-centricity and unity.” 

Updates provided by Sondai Costley.