National Museum of African American History and Culture Act
Following decades of work to promote and feature the contributions of African Americans, the Act to establish the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) was authorized by Congress in 2003. The museum, which will house 36,000 artifacts, officially opens on the National Mall on September 24, 2016. NMAAHC is the 19th and newest Smithsonian Institution museum, and is the only national museum dedicated entirely to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture.
The idea for a memorial first came in 1915 when African American veterans of the Union Army gathered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. After facing discrimination and segregation, the veterans formed a committee to build a memorial to honor African Americans’ service to the country. Their efforts eventually led to 1929 legislation approving the construction of a memorial building, but the stock market crash and subsequent Great Depression prevented the necessary funds from being raised.
In celebration of the opening of the NMAAHC, a 1927 pamphlet showing an early design for an African American memorial museum (seen here, right), and the act that was passed in 2003 are on display in the “Featured Documents” exhibit in the East Rotunda Gallery of the National Archives in Washington, DC, from September 1 through November 9, 2016.
The first and signature pages of the Act are shown here. Click here to view the full “Act to establish within the Smithsonian Institution the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and for other purposes” (PDF).
Past Featured Records
During World War II, the U.S. Armed Forces established a policy that discharged homosexuals regardless of their behavior. In 1981, the Defense Department prohibited gay and lesbian military members from serving in its ranks with a policy that stated, “Homosexuality is incompatible with military service.” In... Read more
The 99th Pursuit Squadron trained at the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, where there was an airfield and a civilian... Read more
On December 6, 1865, slavery throughout the United States became illegal when Georgia ratified the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
Four years earlier, however, Congress had passed a different 13th Amendment, stating, “No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power... Read more
In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the need for a change in American policy concerning refugees became apparent as hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese and Cambodians fled political chaos and physical danger in their homelands. Between 1975 and 1979, some 300,000 of these refugees... Read more
“A bottle which a person could recognize even if they felt it in the dark”
–Coca-Cola Company, 1915
Today the Coca-Cola bottle is one of the most recognizable containers in the world, but a century ago nearly all soda bottles looked the same. To distinguish its product... Read more
On September 2, 1945, representatives from the Japanese government and Allied forces assembled aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay to sign the Japanese Instrument of Surrender, which effectively ended World War II.
The document was prepared by the U.S. War Department and approved... Read more
On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, a momentous achievement in the struggle for equal rights.
When President Lincoln signed the Thirteenth Amendment, freeing the nation’s slaves on January 31, 1865, it was not the end of... Read more
On October 20, 1774, the First Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Association in response to the “Intolerable Acts” the British government had imposed on its subjects in the colonies. These punitive laws were passed in response to patriot uprisings in the north, particularly the... Read more
On May 1, 1915, when the RMS Lusitania departed New York, it was carrying a decent amount of passengers, despite the announcement from the German Embassy printed in newspapers on April 23 warning Americans traveling on British or Allied ships in war zones did so... Read more
On the evening of April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln during a performance of ‘Our American Cousin’ at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC. Booth chose a moment with loud laughter from the audience, which obscured the sound of the pistol. The... Read more