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“I, too, sing America.” Smithsonian Museum of African American History & Culture

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”

They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed –

I, too, am America.

Langston Hughes

The National Museum of African American History and Culture officially opened on Saturday, adding one more amazing piece to the Smithsonian collection. Through its collection of artifacts and narrative, the NMAAHC makes clear that the African American story is an American one and that understanding black history and culture is critical to understanding American history and culture.

In his dedication speech, President Obama said that the NMAAHC

can help us to talk to each other. And more importantly, listen to each other. And most importantly, see each other. Black and white and Latino and Native American and Asian American – see how our stories are bound together.

Learn more about the NMAAHC by visiting the Smithsonian Interactive Tour and New York Times special museum online edition.aa-museum-interactive This NYTimes review is also helpful to understanding the rationale and impact of the museum’s design and layout. You’ll find information on where the museum sits on the Washington Mall in relationship to other monuments and buildings, how the museum is organized, the types of artifacts available, and the intent of the building’s designers.

The real power of the museum is obviously best captured by an on-site visit. But most of us won’t be able to take our students on such a trip. So one disappointment is that there are very few resources on the museum’s online site specifically designed for educators. While there are links to some professional learning resources, there are not yet any lesson plans or unit designs available. Perhaps these are in the works. (Though the Smithsonian Ed folks have plenty of resources already online here and here.)

But to balance the lack of lesson plans is a powerful search function that allows you and students to find and experience an amazing collection of online artifacts virtually. Use the Collection feature to browse or search through the Museum’s collection of over 37,000 pieces of American history. You have the option to select a variety of filters that organizes the collection by type of artifact, place, date, and topic.


You’re able to select individual artifacts for further research with the added ability to zoom in for closer views – perfect for historical thinking activities.



A quick mashup idea? There is currently no way to save or favorite resources you find online the NMAAHC Collection. But . . . you can right-click and save images of the artifacts (or take a screenshot.)

So. What you want to do is to start by finding great stuff at the NMAAHC Collection search. Download images of the stuff you want to use and then add that stuff to your account over at the new and very cool Smithsonian Learning Labs site. Once they’re in your Learning Lab account, you can add annotations, assessment questions, and share them with students in a variety of ways.

There are other great pieces to the NMAAHC site, including a section titled Stories that highlight interpretations of different artifacts by museum curators. I also like the Many Lenses area.

Because each Smithsonian museum has a different mission and our curatorial staff have different areas of interest and expertise, there are myriad ways a single object can be seen and understood.

For the launch of Many Lenses, staff at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, National Museum of the American Indian, and National Museum of American History selected one artifact from their collections to highlight and interpret. Curators from the other museums were invited to tell us what they see when they look at these objects. What stories are revealed because of who is speaking? What meanings are ascribed because of who is writing?

The museum adds a much needed perspective to the telling of the American story. Take advantage of the free resources available both onsite and online as you gather and add to your teaching toolkit.

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