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Begin with the Past

Begin with the Past

Building the National Museum of African American History and Culture

Mabel O. Wilson
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Rising on the National Mall next to the Washington Monument, the National Museum of African American History and Culture is a tiered bronze beacon inviting everyone to learn about the richness and diversity of the African American experience and how it helped shape this nation. Begin with the Past: Building the National Museum of African American History and Culture is the story of how this unparalleled museum found its place in the nation's collective memory and on its public commons.

Begin with the Past presents the long history of efforts to build a permanent place to collect, study, and present African American history and culture. In 2003 the museum was officially established at long last, yet the work of the museum was only just beginning. The book traces the appointment of the director, the selection of the site, and the process of conceiving, designing, and constructing a public monument to the achievements and contributions of African Americans. The careful selection of architects, designers, and engineers culminated in a museum that embodies African American sensibilities about space, form, and material and incorporates rich cultural symbols into the design of the building and its surrounding landscape. The National Museum of African American History and Culture is a place for all Americans to understand our past and embrace our future, and this book is a testament to the inspiration and determination that went into creating this unique place.


Mabel O. Wilson is an associate professor at Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation and a senior fellow at the Institute for Research in African American Studies. Her research investigates space and cultural memory in black America, race and modern architecture, and new technologies and the social production of space. She has written numerous articles and books, most recently Negro Building: Black Americans in the World of Fairs and Museums.


  • Publisher: ‎Smithsonian Books; Illustrated edition (September 27, 2016)
  • Language: ‎English
  • Hardcover: ‎144 pages
  • ISBN-10: ‎1588345696
  • ISBN-13: ‎9781588345691
  • Item Weight: ‎0.035 ounces
  • Dimensions: ‎8.2 x 0.6 x 10.2 inches
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