The Smithsonian’s African-American Museum: A Guide to the Opening


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The exterior view of the museum.

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Lexey Swall for The New York Times

The idea of a national African-American museum was conceived by black Civil War veterans more than a century ago.

On Saturday, their vision becomes a reality with the opening of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington.

Some 3,500 artifacts, including a set of slave shackles, a Tuskegee Airmen biplane and a fedora that belonged to Michael Jackson, are on display in the 400,000-square-foot museum, which strives to tell the complex, harrowing and irrepressible story of black America.

Such a sweeping survey has not surprisingly drawn interest from visitors. Here is information on how to attend the museum opening, how to nab passes for entry this season, and where to eat and stay in the city.

Official Opening Day, Sept. 24

Highlights: President Obama will lead the dedication ceremony, which will begin at 10 a.m. outside the museum, at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue NW, after musical performances and readings of African-American literature that start at 9 a.m.

Michelle Obama, President George W. Bush, Laura Bush, Representative John Lewis and others will be attending, as are crowds in the tens of thousands who are expected to gather in the early morning.

Logistics: Many streets around the museum in downtown Washington will be closed to traffic, so mass transit is the best option for getting to the ceremony (Smithsonian and Federal Triangle are the nearest Metro stations). Security checkpoints will be in place around the mall; people attending are advised against bringing backpacks or large bags that would be subject to searches.

If you can’t get close to the action, don’t fret; the event will be live-streamed on the museum’s website (nmaahc.si.edu). Tickets are not required for this event.

Music Festival, Sept. 23-25

Highlights: Over the weekend the Washington Monument grounds will play host to a three-day music festival, “Freedom Sounds: A Community Celebration,” featuring jazz, folk, rock and hip-hop acts on two stages. No tickets are required.

The marquee events are two evening concerts. The metal-funk-punk band Living Colour, the group Public Enemy and the hip-hop collective the Roots will perform on Saturday, from 6 to 9 p.m. And on Sunday, from 6 to 9 p.m., the funk band Experience Unlimited and the singer-songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello will take the stage.

More than two dozen acts, including the New Orleans-based Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the folk band McIntosh County Shouters and the all-women a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock, will also perform during the afternoon, from Friday to Sunday. For a full schedule, visit folklife-media.si.edu.

Logistics: On site will also be a variety of food vendors serving barbecue, Southern comfort classics, Caribbean dishes and Kenyan curries.

The Museum, Sept. 24 onward.

The highlights: The museum is home to a sweeping collection, from the Middle Passage to the Obama presidency.

Logistics: Visitors must obtain a pass for timed admission. Though the museum technically opens to the public at 1 p.m. on Saturday, after the dedication by President Obama, no more passes for admission are available until Monday. Beginning then, free same-day passes will be distributed on a first-come-first-served basis to visitors who show up in person starting at 9:15 a.m. Each person can get up to four same-day passes.

Advance passes are also available. They can be reserved through the museum’s website or by calling 919-653-0443 or 800-514-3849. Though they are no longer available through October, advance passes are currently available for visits in November and December. You can reserve six passes, including for children and infants, per person.

The museum is open daily, from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., but will have extended hours through the first weekend in October: Sept. 24, 1 to 8 p.m.; Sept. 25, 7 a.m. to midnight; Sept. 26-30, 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.; Oct. 1, 10 a.m. to midnight; and Oct. 2, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Where to Eat and Stay

Also opening on Saturday is the museum’s Sweet Home Café, which will serve Southern comfort dishes like buttermilk-fried chicken along side Caribbean-style spicy braised beef and vegetarian empanadas (entrees $8 to $15). With close to 40 vendors, Union Market (1309 Fifth Street NE, unionmarketdc.com) offers all types of foods, from sushi to Korean-inspired tacos. At its Capitol Hill or Georgetown location, the Good Stuff Eatery (goodstuffeatery.com), you can find a farm-raised beef burger for $6.65.

Hotel rooms for this weekend are going fast, but some are still available at the Hyatt Place (400 E Street SW; 202-803-6110; dcnationalmall.place.hyatt.com; rates starting at $130), whose rooftop bar, CityBar, offers sweeping views of the National Mall. Near Logan Circle is a new stylish hotel with availability, Kimpton Mason and Rook (1430 Rhode Island Avenue NW; 202-462-9001; masonandrookhotel.com; rates starting at $180). For future stays, a family-friendly option not far from the White House is the Holiday Inn (1501 Rhode Island Avenue NW; 202-483-2000; inndc.com; rates starting at $169), where children can eat breakfast for free at its cafe.

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