It is the latest attraction on Washington’s National Mall, known as “America’s Front Yard”.
And with racial tensions high in the United States, the new National Museum of African American History and Culture opens on Saturday, at a critical time.
The trials and tribulations of the African American experience are told as well as the community’s contribution to life in the US in exhibitions designed to resonate with everyone.
Smithsonian's newest museum aims “to look at the American experience through the African-American lens" https://t.co/sBO44gxp8W— Newsweek (@Newsweek) 23 septembre 2016
“This is not a story of black people by black people but rather this says the way to think about America is through the lens of this community,” the museum’s founding director, Lonnie Bunch, told euronews.
“So if you want to understand American notions of optimism, resilience and equality, it is tied to this community. So, in essence, the message is: this is your story regardless of who you are.”
The 36,000 items in the collection range from trade goods used to buy slaves in Africa to a segregated railway car from the 1920s, a red Cadillac convertible belonging to rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Chuck Berry and dance shoes worn by Sammy Davis Jr.
Other displays at the $540 million museum include a slave cabin from South Carolina, a robe used by boxing great Muhammad Ali and the coffin of Emmett Till, whose 1955 murder in Mississippi helped galvanise the civil rights movement.
A humble skirt worn by an enslaved child finds a place in history https://t.co/n0l6njIwoU— Washington Post (@washingtonpost) 24 septembre 2016
Years in the making, it opens as African Americans continue to face challenges.
“We are at a time in America where race matters again. Race divides us. This is a place that can help…help us find true opportunities to discuss and maybe to find some reconciliation,” Bunch said.
That view is shared by President Barack Obama whose presence at Saturday’s opening, as the first black US president, is a strong symbol. He has already spoken about the importance of the museum, in the light of recent protests over police shootings of unarmed black men.
Black Civil War veterans first proposed an African-American museum in 1915. Congress approved its creation in 2003, and construction of the bronze-coloured building took almost four years.
It is now being billed as the only national US museum devoted exclusively to documenting African American life, history, and culture.
Euronews correspondent Stefan Grobe said: “The creators want the museum to be a place where all US citizens can learn about the African American experience and what it means to their lives. Yet, the most recent police shootings of unarmed black men just add another chapter to that experience, one too fresh to be showcased.”