Artifacts Spotlight: National Museum of African American History and Culture

PHOTO: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of African American History and Culture Architectural Photography.PlayAlan Karchmer/NMAAHC
WATCH Exclusive: Obamas Tour National Museum of African American History and Culture

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture finally opens its doors today on the National Mall. It includes 12 inaugural exhibitions and close to 37,000 artifacts, but only 3,000 will be on display.

Here are 10 must-see artifacts featured in the inaugural exhibit.

Rosa Parks’ Dress

PHOTO: Rosa Parks Dress.Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of the Black Fashion Museum founded by Lois K. Alexander-Lane
Rosa Parks' Dress.

Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks was also seamstress. This is the dress Parks was sewing before she was arrested for not giving up her seat on a segregated bus on Dec. 1, 1955.

Parks’ dress is part of the Black Fashion Museum Collection that was donated to NMAAHC.

Michael Jackson’s Fedora

PHOTO: Michael Jacksons fedora is one of the items on display in a new exhibit about how the Apollo Theater shaped American entertainment, at the National Museum of American History in Washington, on April 20, 2010. Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo
Michael Jackson's fedora is one of the items on display in a new exhibit about how the Apollo Theater shaped American entertainment, at the National Museum of American History in Washington, on April 20, 2010.

This black fur felt fedora with a gold metal buckle was worn by Jackson during his Victory Tour. The fedora is featured in the Musical Crossroads exhibition on the fourth floor.

PHOTO:
SLIDESHOW: Inside the National Museum of African American History and Culture

Musical Crossroads organizes the intersection of history and culture, grouping stories of musical genres and themes.

Angola Prison Guard Tower

PHOTO: A guard tower from Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola and The Farm is lowered into the construction site of The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, Nov. 17, 2013.Cliff Owen/AP Photo
A guard tower from Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as "Angola" and "The Farm" is lowered into the construction site of The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, Nov. 17, 2013.

The Angola Prison guard tower, one of two items the museum is built around, rests on the bottom level of the museum. Used by prison guards to watch prisoners at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, the prison tower stands nearly 21-feet-tall and 14-feet-wide.

Angola Prison, one of the largest maximum-security prisons in the nation, opened in 1901 and was built on former slave land.

The museum also has a 6-by-9-foot cell from another section of the prison that will be soon be installed in the museum.

Segregation-era Southern Railway Car

PHOTO: A Southern Railway No. 1200 heavyweight passenger coach with segregated compartments. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Pete Claussen and Gulf and Ohio Railways

A Southern Railway No. 1200 heavyweight passenger coach with segregated compartments.

The entire building is built around two signature items, one of which being a 77-ton, 44-seat segregation-era railway car which serviced Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida between 1940 and 1960.

This artifact is part of the Segregation Gallery, that focuses on the years 1876 to 1968. The rail car was lifted off semi-trailers and lowered 60 feet into the bottom level of the museum during early stages of construction.

Muhammad Ali Headgear

Muhammad Ali Headgear, Fifth Street Gym.Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
Muhammad Ali Headgear, Fifth Street Gym.

The Muhammad Ali headgear worn by the boxing legend at the 5th Street Gym in Miami is located in the ports exhibition as part of the Communities Gallery. During his time in Miami in the 1960s, Ali converted to Islam and changed his name.

The sports gallery looks at the contributions of African-American athletes.

Hope School Desk

PHOTO: Hope School DeskCollection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of the Hope School Community Center, Pomaria, SC
Hope School Desk

School desks from the Hope School, a Rosenwald school in South Carolina, can be found on the third floor in the Community Gallery "Making a Way Out of No Way." According to the museum, the Hope School was one of more than 5,000 rural schools supported by the Julius Rosenwald Fund. Artifacts donated from the Hope School include its original sign, 10 desks and a wood-burning stove.

The “Making A Way Out Of No Way” exhibition reflects stories of blacks' perseverance, resourcefulness and resilience.

Nat Turner’s Bible

PHOTO: Nat Turners Bible.Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Maurice A. Person and Noah and Brooke Porter
Nat Turner's Bible.

Nat Turner’s bible can be seen in the History Gallery "Slavery and Freedom." Turner was a slave and minister who led a slave rebellion in Virginia in 1831. Descendants of Lavinia Francis, a slaveholder who survived the rebellion, donated the bible to the museum.

According to the museum, it is thought that Turner was holding this bible when he was captured two months after the rebellion.

President Obama Hand-painted Banner for Obama Presidential Campaign 2008

PHOTO: President Barack Obama Hand-painted banner for Obama presidential campaign 2008 that was modified after 2008 Election results.Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Elizabeth Hess
President Barack Obama Hand-painted banner for Obama presidential campaign 2008 that was modified after 2008 Election results.

The museum brings visitors to the present day with a banner for Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. Hand-painted in New Haven, Connecticut, this banner is one of the artifacts honoring our nation’s first black president and his legacy.

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama attended the museum's groundbreaking ceremony in Washington, D.C., in February 2012. The president will deliver remarks during the museum's opening ceremony where he will be joined by other distinguished guests.

1968 Olympic Warm-up Suit Worn by Tommie Smith

PHOTO: 1968 Olympic warm-up suit worn by Tommie Smith.Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
1968 Olympic warm-up suit worn by Tommie Smith.

Upon entering the Sports Gallery, visitors are greeted by a statue from the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City where African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists during the American National Anthem, making a political statement during the medal ceremony to bring attention to the inequality in the U.S.

The 1968 Olympic warm-up suit worn by Smith is here on display to honor the contributions of African-American athletes in sports.

Chuck Berry’s Cadillac

PHOTO: Chuck Berrys Cadillac.Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of

African American History and Culture, Donation of Charles E. Berry

Chuck Berry's Cadillac.

Chuck Berry’s red convertible Cadillac is part of his personal fleet and was driven during the filming of "Hail! Hail! Rock ’n’ Roll," a 1987 documentary that chronicles two 1986 concerts celebrating his 60th birthday.
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