(CNN) – Situated on America’s front yard, in the shadow of the Washington monument, now sits the final piece of the National Mall: The National Museum of African American History and Culture. It is an imposing, majestic project more than a century in the making.
Lonnie Bunch, Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture said, “This is a place that looks back, that revels in the past, but points us to the future.”
The Smithsonian’s 19th museum showcases the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of the African American experience. 400 years come to life in more than 30-thousand artifacts.
According to Bunch, “You get to remember all these people who have been left out of history, therefore their lives matter. Their stories matter. The other thing you do, is this is framed in a way that says, this is everybody’s story. It’s not black people’s story, it’s the story of America.”
Featuring the highest of the highs, like Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration, and the lowest of the lows, like tiny shackles used on children or an 1835 bill of sale for a 16-year-old girl called Polly.
The museum is still putting on the finishing touches, but for a project that began with zero artifacts, the debut collection is astounding. From slave and freemans cabins, a stearman biplane flown by the Tuskeegee airmen, a Greensboro lunch counter, and slave revolt leader Nat Turner’s bible, to Chuck Berry’s candy red Cadillac and George Clinton’s p-funk mothership.
Bunch noted, “The goal was to find that tension between moments of tears and moments of great joy.”
Architects worked for years on its unique design. The shape is reminiscent of an African headdress. The intricate façade was inspired by the iron work of slaves in Charleston and New Orleans.
Phil Freelon, the lead architect of the museum, said, “We felt it was important for the building to be distinctive in some way, not just another marble box on the mall.”
The museum opens to the public September 24th.