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African-American History Museum

Planning a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture?

Five smart lists for pre- and post-game reading

We go to museums to learn, but sometimes it helps to have a little background information. It’s also good to know where to go after a museum visit, when our curiosity is piqued. I asked five people what material one should one explore to prep for a visit to the just-opened National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.


I actually don’t think people need to read anything before going to the museum; rather … it should work the other way around — people should visit the museum and discover things they want to read more about, and then do a deep dive after they leave. The museum is something that should serve as an educational resource to start conversations, not something you already need to be an expert to encounter. That said, a couple of books people can read to learn more after they’ve visited the museum would be Soul Food by Adrian Miller to learn about the food artifacts displayed on the fourth floor, and The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson to learn more about the Great Migration.”

Eve Ewing is a writer, teacher, and artist based in Chicago. You can find her work at Seven Scribes, where she is also the submission editor.


Some of the most important books to read are:

When Affirmative Action Was White by Ira Katznelson

American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass by Nancy A. Denton

Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

Clint Smith III is a Ph.D candidate in education at Harvard University and the author of a recently released book of poetry, Counting Descent.


The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. DuBois

The Black Towns by Norman Crockett

Sick from Freedom: African-American Illness and Suffering During the Civil War and Reconstruction by Jim Downs

Disturbed About Man by Benjamin E. Mays

MARCH, a graphic novel trilogy about U.S. Rep. John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

The Red Record Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States by Ida B. Wells

The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Ed Baptist

Vann Newkirk is a staff writer at The Atlantic and a contributing editor at Seven Scribes.


“A museum is only a cheat sheet. You can’t get a complete history or really anything from a visit to a museum. So if you go and you find there are some things about slavery you didn’t know, then maybe you go read From Slavery to Freedom or you read Roots. If you decide that you’d like to learn more about the Black Panther Party then you can go forward and watch Vanguard of the Revolution or read books about the party. The best way would be to go and see what collections inspire you and take your reading cues from there. There is no major facet of African-American experience in this country that is not touched upon in the museum in some way shape or form … The museum does a really great job of reflecting the role of women’s leadership and activism and creativity over the history of African-Americans in this country in a way that I haven’t seen before. There are your usual suspects, your Rosa Parks and your Ida B. Wells, but then you also have the hatmakers, the social organization leaders, the National Council of Negro Women, they did such a great a job keeping it as close to 50/50 as possible.”

Jamilah Lemieux is vice president, news and men’s programming at Interactive One.


“[In the museum] I was excited to see a lot of nuance, a lot of disturbing paradigms that often don’t get questioned. I saw a lot of study and thought behind the way things were done and the way things were presented. So it’s subtle — I don’t think it’s something that everybody would see, but I think it’s impactful on everyone because it really does decenter some of our comfortable tropes of African-American history.”

Worst than Slavery: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice by David Oshinsky

Right to Ride: Streetcar Boycotts and African American Citizenship in the Era of Plessy v. Ferguson by Blair L.M. Kelley

To ‘Joy My Freedom by Tera Hunter

At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance — A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power by Danielle McGuire

Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington

New Day in Babylon: The Black Power Movement and American Culture, 1965-1975 by William L. Van Deburg

Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party by Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin, Jr.

The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America by Khalil Gibran Muhammad

Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920 by Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham

Blair L.M. Kelley is the assistant dean for interdisciplinary studies and an associate professor of history at North Carolina State University. She is the author of Right to Ride: Streetcar Boycotts and African American Citizenship in the Era of Plessy v. Ferguson.

Tierra R. Wilkins is an associate editor for The Undefeated. She likes to eat fries with her ketchup.