National Museum of African American History and Culture: What to know

PHOTO: Tourists walk past the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture that is currently under construction, July 16, 2015 in Washington. PlayMark Wilson/Getty Images
WATCH How the National Museum of African American History and Culture Was Created

More than a million visitors have gone to the new National Museum of African American History and Culture since it opened in September in Washington, D.C.

And those who go apparently find a lot to see in what is the 19th museum of the Smithsonian Institution.

Visitors spend on average six hours or more on weekends in the African American History museum, compared to 75 minutes to two hours for most other museums, according to the museum.

Here is what you need to know before you go.

The Basics

The idea for the museum goes back over 100 years ago to 1915, and presidents and Congress joined in making it happen. Bblack veterans of the Civil War first suggested the museum a century ago, but it wasn't until 2003 when Congress passed legislation that plans to make the museum a reality took shape, Smithsonian Secretary David Skorton said.

The museum's founding director, Lonnie Bunch, said its goal is to show everyone how the African-American experience has affected them.

"This is a story for us all, not just one community," Bunch said.

The 400,000-square-foot museum sits on America's front lawn, the National Mall, at the corner of Constitution Avenue and 14th Street, across from the Washington Monument. It includes 12 inaugural exhibitions grouped around three main themes: history, community and culture and includes an exhibit about the museum’s evolution.

The unique style of the museum stands in stark contrast to the other marble and columned buildings along the National Mall. The three-tiered building boasts 70,000 square feet of bronze-colored cast-aluminum outer panels weighing 230 tons. The museum is open 364 days a year, closing only on Christmas Day.

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

What's Inside

The museum includes an education and technology center, cafe, museum store, a welcome center, orientation theater, a contemplative court and the Oprah Winfrey Theater. The theater is named after Winfrey in recognition of her total contribution of $13 million to the museum. At the 350-seat theater, one of the largest spaces in the museum, visitors can listen to performers, scholars and leaders to gain a better understanding of African-American history and culture.

When the museum was established in 2003, it did not have a single artifact, a site in Washington, D.C., or architect, according to the Smithsonian. Now the museum has more than 3,000 artifacts on display.

"Objects were donated by people eager to share parts of history with the public," Skorton said.

Highlights from the collections include a dress that civil rights activist Rosa Parks was making shortly before her 1955 arrest; Michael Jackson’s fedora; a Tuskegee airplane used to train African-American pilots during World War II; and a segregation-era outhern railway car from the 1920s.

The railroad car and a prison tower are exhibits that were installed before the building was complete, so the museum was essentially built around those two items.

How to Visit

Get tickets to the National Museum of African American History and Culture

The museum continues to attract a high number of visitors. As a result, it offers timed passes to the general public to help ensure a smooth visit for self-guided tours. There are six passes available per order and every visitor, including infants, needs a timed pass, which are free. Each timed pass has a unique entry code and can only be used once.

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