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National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C.: Experience African American History & Culture in the Nation's Capital

Alan Karchmer/Smithsonian’s National Museum of History and Culture
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A brand-new immersive museum, evocative monuments and ethnic restaurants make Washington, D.C., your capital for African American history and culture.

Joanne Hyppolite is curator of the Cultural Expressions exhibit at the National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C., the newest – and already immensely popular – museum of the Smithsonian Institution. Here, she shares her must-sees inside the museum and around D.C., including essential African American heritage sites and tips for dining well as you explore.

How the Museum Connects Us All

For Hyppolite, the first object in the museum’s collection – which is now displayed in the Cultural Expressions exhibition she curated – sends a universal message. The object is an Afro-Ecuadorian boat seat carved with a web design, emblematic of folktales featuring the spider Anansi. The tales originated in Africa and spread via the trans-Atlantic slave trade. “In this one object, we’re able to tell that a lot of the stories in our museum are global stories. We’re connected to each other in ways that transcend our geographic boundaries,” Hyppolite explains.

Tips for Visiting the Museum

Museum admission is free, although you’ll need to secure a timed pass in advance of your visit – information is available on the museum’s website. As you plan, Hyppolite recommends allowing ample time to view the exhibitions (five hours on average), browse through the gift shop and enjoy a meal at the onsite Sweet Home Café. Here, regional specialties demonstrate the influence of African Americans in U.S. kitchens, whether you’re savoring slow-cooked collard greens indicative of the Agricultural South or pan-roasted rainbow trout in the style of the Western Range. Menus change seasonally, and “it’s really a gourmet experience,” Hyppolite says.

African American History Bonus

If you’ve visited the museum, but you’re searching for more African American history in Washington, D.C., Hyppolite suggests starting with the nearby Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. “King’s words are spread along the side of the monument site, and they evoke a lot of emotion,” she says. Additionally, plan for a guided tour of the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site. “Douglass was a great abolitionist, writer and statesman ... but at his house, you also get to learn about the personal man,” Hyppolite says.

Ethnic Eats in D.C.

In addition to its treasure of African American heritage sites, Washington, D.C., and the surrounding area boasts a great concentration of African restaurants – “reflective of the large number of immigrants who are here,” Hyppolite says. Then she shares her strategy: “I go to a different restaurant every month. I’ve tried Ethiopian, Senegalese, Kenyan ... you can experience all these different cuisines in one place.”