Tracing the Path to Progress: 9 Essential Black History Museums Across America
Tracing the Path to Progress: 9 Essential Black History Museums Across America - The Legacy of Slavery at the National Museum of African American History and Culture
Located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) is one of the most powerful and poignant museums in America. Opened in 2016, it provides an unflinching look at the history and legacy of slavery in the United States.
Walking through the history galleries, visitors encounter the sights, sounds and stories of the Atlantic slave trade and plantation slavery. Exhibits like shackles used on slave ships and auction notices detailing human chattel provide chilling evidence of our nation's original sin. The stories shared in these halls are often painful, but they must be told if we are to move forward as a society.
One of the most talked-about displays is a statue of Thomas Jefferson standing flanked by brick columns etched with the names of the more than 600 enslaved people he owned during his lifetime. This provocative exhibit underscores the hypocrisy and moral failings of even our most revered Founding Fathers. It forces Americans to acknowledge that many of our nation's early leaders profited directly from the sale, exploitation and abuse of human beings.
But the museum does not dwell only on the darkest chapters. It also highlights stories of resilience, resistance and rebellion among the enslaved. We learn about the everyday forms of resistance, like breaking tools, feigning illness or slowing work pace. And we learn of bold uprisings, like Nat Turner's armed rebellion. Focusing on these stories of Black agency prevents portraying enslaved people solely as victims.
While slavery officially ended with the 13th Amendment in 1865, its impacts still reverberate today. Lingering legacies like prejudice, discrimination and institutional racism continue to plague American society. The museum's exhibits connect the dots between slavery and modern issues like over-incarceration and economic inequality.