Agency history, 2003-

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  • Bunch, Lonnie G
  • Crew, Spencer R. 1949-
  • Young, Kevin 1970-
  • Lewis, John 1940 February 21-
  • Coolidge, Calvin 1872-1933
  • King, Martin Luther Jr. 1929-1968
  • Mack, Tom
  • Leland, Mickey
  • Simon, Paul 1928-2003
  • Brownback, Sam 1956-
  • Cleland, Max 1942-
  • Obama, Barack
  • Obama, Michelle 1964-
  • Bush, Laura Welch 1946-
  • Clough, G. Wayne
  • Jones, Quincy 1933-
  • Watts, J. C. Jr
  • United States Colored Troops
  • Committee of Colored Citizens of the Grand Army of the Republic
  • National Memorial Association
  • Tourmobile Sightseeing
  • National African American Museum (U.S.)
  • National African-American Heritage Memorial Museum (U.S.)
  • Arts and Industries Building (Washington, D.C.)
  • Chicago Historical Society
  • Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup


Agency History


  • This is an agency history. It does not describe actual records. The Smithsonian Institution Archives uses these histories as brief accounts of the origin, development, and functions of an office or administrative unit to set that unit in its historical context.
  • Smithsonian Institution Archives, Smithsonian History, National Museum of African American History and Culture,, accessed July 21, 2021.
  • The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) was established by law in 2003, the culmination of decades of efforts to commemorate African American history. African American civil war veterans began the push to commemorate the African American influence on America with a place on the National Mall in 1915. Veterans of the United States Colored Troops (USCT) were nearly excluded from a 50th anniversary Grand Review Parade celebrating the victorious Union Troops. USCT veterans formed a Committee of Colored Citizens of the Grand Army of the Republic to make sure their military service was remembered and provide help with housing, food, and logistical costs for African American veterans. After the parade, funds from this committee went to a National Memorial Association to create a more permanent memorial to African Americans' military contributions. The association's aim was to build a building to depict African Americans' contributions in all walks of life, not just military. While no site was designated, the National Mall was the committee's goal. Despite significant racially charged opposition, this Association worked long and hard to accomplish their goal, and with significant grassroots support that overcame congressional racism, a law creating a commission for the museum was signed into law by President Calvin Coolidge on March 4, 1929. Unfortunately, due to the stock market crash later that year, the commission was unable to raise funds and the museum was never built.
  • The United States Interior Department took over the commission's work, but the memorial did not come to fruition. The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968 galvanized interest again. An initiative by Tom Mack, president of Tourmobile Sightseeing, a DC shuttle tour company, led to a 1986 Joint Resolution sponsored by Representatives Mickey Leland of Texas and John Lewis of Georgia and Senator Paul Simon of Illinois "to encourage and support" private efforts to build a memorial and a museum in Washington, DC.
  • Starting in 1988, new bills were introduced annually in the Congress by Representative John Lewis to create a National African American Heritage Museum and Memorial within the Smithsonian Institution. In 1991, a Smithsonian blue-ribbon commission recommended the creation of a national museum devoted to African Americans to collect, analyze, research, and organize exhibitions on a scale and definition that matched the major museums devoted to other aspects of American life. The commission recommended that the museum be temporarily located in the Arts and Industries Building until a new, larger facility could be built, but the legislation stalled amid controversy about funding and the appropriateness of the site.
  • In 2001, a new bipartisan coalition of Representatives John Lewis and J. C. Watts, Jr., and Senators Sam Brownback and Max Cleland renewed efforts to establish a National Museum of African American History and Culture within the Smithsonian Institution. Renewed questions about funding and feasibility of using the Arts and Industries Building resulted in the passage of P.L. 107-106 on December 28, 2001, which established the NMAAHC Plan for Action Presidential Commission to develop a feasible plan to move forward with the museum.
  • In April of 2003, the Commission released its first report, "The Time Has Come, Report to the President and Congress" suggesting for several possible locations and a preliminary planning program that determined an area of 350,000 square feet represented a reasonable size for the museum. In September of 2003, the Commission issued its "Final Site Report" which recommended the Capitol Grounds site, with the Washington Monument site as an alternative. In December 2003, Congress enacted The NMAAHC Act, P. L. 108-184, establishing a museum within the Smithsonian Institution to be known as the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The act required the Smithsonian Institution Board of Regents to select a final site.
  • In October of 2004, the Board of Regents appointed nineteen members to the National Museum of African American History and Culture Council. On March 14, 2005, Lonnie G. Bunch, then director of the Chicago Historical Society, was appointed Founding Director of the museum. In January of 2006, the Board of Regents selected the site on the National Mall near the Washington Monument on the southwest corner of 14th Street and Constitution Avenue, Northwest. The design team of Freelon Adjaye Bond/Smith Group was selected in April 2009 from among twenty-two entries submitted by architectural firms worldwide.
  • On February 22, 2012, ground was broken northeast of the Washington Monument and to the west of the National Museum of American History. Attended by President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Representative John Lewis, Governor Sam Brownback, and former First Lady Laura Welch Bush, the ceremony was presided over by Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough and Museum Director Lonnie G. Bunch.
  • The National Museum of African American History and Culture was opened on September 24, 2016 by President Barack Obama during a three day festival on the National Mall produced by Quincy Jones, a member of the museum's advisory board. The only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture, its goals are 1) to provide an opportunity for those who are interested in African American culture to explore and revel in this history through interactive exhibitions; 2) to help all Americans see how their stories, their histories, and their cultures are shaped and informed by global influences; 3) to explore what it means to be an American and share how American values like resiliency, optimism, and spirituality are reflected in African American history and culture; and 4) to serve as a place of collaboration that reaches beyond Washington to engage new audiences and to collaborate with the myriad of museums and educational institutions that have explored and preserved this important history well before this museum was created.
  • Lonnie G. Bunch was the Founding Director of the museum from 2005 to 2019. After Bunch was installed as the Fourteenth Secretary of the Smithsonian on November 1, 2019, Spencer R. Crew served as interim director from 2019 to 2020. Crew was then succeeded by Kevin Young, Director, 2021- .
  • For a history of the larger creating unit, refer to "Forms part of" above.

Repository Loc.

Smithsonian Institution Archives Capital Gallery, Suite 3000, MRC 507; 600 Maryland Avenue, SW; Washington, DC 20024-2520


  • 2003
  • 2003-


  • Veterans
  • Civil rights movements
  • Historical museums
  • Museums
  • Civil rights
  • Society
  • History
  • Social conditions
  • African American museums
  • African Americans--Social life and customs
  • African Americans--Social conditions
  • African Americans--History
  • African American veterans
  • Washington Monument (Washington, D.C.)


  • Washington Monument (Washington, D.C.)
  • United States
  • Mall, The (Washington, D.C.)


Mixed archival materials

Local number

SIA AH00432

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