Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

National Museum of African American History and Culture

National Museum of African American History and Culture - Joy of Museums - External

National Museum of African American History and Culture

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is a Smithsonian Institution Museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It has over 35,000 objects in its collection related to African American History and Culture and is open to the public free of charge.

The museum was established in 2003, and it opened in 2016, in a ceremony led by U.S. President Barack Obam. Its collection relates to African American subjects of community, family, the visual and performing arts, religion, civil rights, slavery, and segregation. The museum has separate 12 exhibition areas with multiple interactive activities and videos across five floors.

A Tour of the National Museum of African American History and Culture

  • Manillas
  • “Great Negro Mart”
  • Code Noir

Manillas

National Museum of African American History and Culture - Joy of Museums - Manillas

Manillas

These Manillas were a form of money, made of bronze or copper, which were used in West Africa. Manillas became the principal money of the slave trade and were used as trade goods in the Atlantic slave trade. The trade involved taking manillas and other brass objects such as pans and basins to West Africa, to buy slaves for delivery to America and then returning to Europe with cotton for the mills of Europe. The price of a slave, expressed in manillas, varied according to place, and the specific type of manilla offered.

Manillas were produced in large numbers in a range of designs, sizes, and weights. Originating before the colonial period, as the result of trade with the early Portuguese Empire. Manillas during the slave-trading period became the general-purpose currency in West Africa, being used for everyday commercial transactions, payment of fines, and compensation. Manillas were often hung over a grave to show the wealth of the deceased.

As the slave trade was eliminated in the 19th century, manilla production declined and became unprofitable. Many manillas were melted down by African craftsmen to produce artworks. Manillas continued to serve as money and decorative objects until the late 1940s.

Manillas

“Great Negro Mart”

National Museum of African American History and Culture - Joy of Museums - "Great Negro Mart"

“Great Negro Mart”

This object is a card for the “Great Negro Mart,” used by Byrd Hill as his calling card. Byrd Hill owned and operated a large slave yard where a “general assortment of negroes” was available for purchase. The slave trade made significant profits for slave dealers, sales patrols, auctioneers, law officials, and others who contributed to the trafficking in humans.

Although slavery is no longer legal anywhere in the world, human trafficking remains an international problem to this day and an estimated that tens of million people are enslaved today.

Great Negro Mart

Code Noir

National Museum of African American History and Culture - Joy of Museums - Code Noir

Code Noir

The Code Noir (French: Black Code) was a decree passed by France’s King Louis XIV in 1685, that defined the conditions of slavery in the French colonial empire.  The code detailed the “acceptable” conditions for enslavement. It legitimized slave ownership and, at the same time, allowed slaves certain rights. The Code Noir also restricted the activities of free Negroes, forbade the exercise of any religion other than Roman Catholicism, and ordered all Jews out of France’s colonies.

The Code Noir has 60 articles, below is a sample of some the articles:

  • Religion
    • Slaves must be baptized in the Roman Catholic Church
    • Public exercise of any religion other than Roman Catholicism was prohibited
    • Jews could not reside in the French colonies
  • Prohibitions
    • Slaves must not carry weapons except under permission of their masters for hunting purposes
    • Slaves belonging to different masters must not gather at any time under any circumstance
    • Masters must give food and clothes to their slaves, even to those who were sick or old
    • A slave who struck his or her master, his wife, mistress or children would be executed
    • A slave husband and wife and their prepubescent children under the same master were not to be sold separately
  • Punishments
    • Fugitive slaves absent for a month should have their ears cut off and be branded.
    • For another month, their hamstring would be cut, and they would be branded again. A third time they would be executed
  • Freedoms
    • Slave masters 20 years of age may free their slaves
    • Freed slaves were French subjects, even if born elsewhere
    • Freed slaves had the same rights as French colonial subjects

The Code Noir resulted in a far higher percentage of blacks being free people of color compared to non-French colonies. They were, on average, more literate, with a significant number of them owning businesses, properties, and even slaves.

Code Noir

National Museum of African American History and Culture

 African American topics covered by the Museum

  • Slavery
  • Segregation
  • Civil Rights
  • Religious Groups
  • American South
  • American West
  • Clothing and Dress
  • Communities
  • Education
  • Family
  • Literature
  • Military
  • Music
  • Photography
  • Politics

Visiting the National Museum of African American History and Culture

  • The Museum requires timed-entry passes for certain peak times and busy seasons when visitor demand is highest. During off-peak times, when visitor numbers are lower, visitors can enter the Museum without a timed-entry pass.
  • Entry to all Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C., is free.
  • The Museum is located at 1400 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C., between Madison Drive and Constitution Avenue and between 14th and 15th Streets.
  • The Museum is open 7-days a week, 364 days a year. Regular operating hours are from 10:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. The Museum is closed on December 25.
  • Peak Season is usually from March to August.
  • All visitors are required to pass through security screening at the entrance to the Museum. All visitors are expected to walk through a metal detector. Those visitors unable to go through the metal detector will be hand-screened with an electronic wand.
  • No food and drink are allowed in the Museum. Bottled water is permitted. Food and beverages may be consumed in the Museum Café.

Explore Museums in Washington, D.C.

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“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”
– Abraham Lincoln

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Photo Credit:GM

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