For more than 100 years, advocates have pushed for a museum to honor and explore the contributions of African Americans. They overcame geographic, economic and philosophical hurdles, fierce battles with Congress and multiple design challenges. Here are the some of the twists and turns in the long road from dream to reality.
1868 : The College Museum, the nation’s first African American history museum, is established in Hampton, Va., on the campus of Hampton Institute.
1929 : President Herbert Hoover appoints a committee tasked with creating a National Memorial Building to commemorate the contributions of black people to U.S. history. Congress passes a bill authorizing the project but fails to fund it.
1953 : The African American Museum in Cleveland opens, becoming the first independent, nonprofit museum of black history.
1981 : Congress approves a federal charter for the creation of the National Afro-American Museum in Wilberforce, Ohio, once a stop on the Underground Railroad.
1985: Seeing Congress’s support of the Wilberforce museum, the National Council of Education and Economic Development — a nonprofit group that pushed for the advancement of the black community — begins advocating for a black history museum in Washington.
April 1988 : The National Afro-American Museum in Wilberforce, Ohio, opens.
September 1988 : Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) introduces a bill to create a museum of African American history and culture. The cost concerns some critics, and some hope to combine the African American and the proposed American Indian museums. The bill fails. Lewis would continue to introduce a similar bill with every new Congress.
November 1989 : Congress approves the creation of the National Museum of the American Indian, the Smithsonian’s first to document an American racial minority.
December 1989: The Smithsonian appoints a small group to study whether a black history museum would be advisable. The group recommends that a larger commission be appointed and states the importance of having a museum of national importance.
May 1990: Per the small group’s advice, the Smithsonian creates a 22-member commission. A year later, the commission recommends the creation of a free-standing museum, and the Smithsonian Board of Regents unanimously endorses the idea.
1992: Lewis and Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) reintroduce a bill to create a museum for African American history. This time it passes in the Senate but fails in the House.
1994: Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) blocks legislation that would create an African American museum, saying it would waste taxpayers’ money and be redundant given the Anacostia Museum and the National Museum of African Art.
1995: Because of budget cuts, the Smithsonian rescinds support for an African American museum and instead creates a project called the Center for African American History and Culture, angering many museum supporters.
April 1997: The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History opens in Detroit, becoming the world’s largest black history museum .
Feb. 28, 1998: The Smithsonian hosts a fundraiser for the Anacostia Museum and the in-the-works Center for African American History and Culture.
2000: A private group, dissatisfied with the Smithsonian’s stagnancy, proposes a black history museum across from the Washington Navy Yard.
Dec. 29, 2001: President George W. Bush signs a bill to create a commission to study the need and logistics for an African American museum.
November 2002: The insurance company Aflac donates $1 million to the commission in anticipation that Congress will authorize a museum.
April 2003: The commission recommends a museum be built adjacent to the Capitol Reflecting Pool, between Pennsylvania and Constitution avenues NW and First and Third streets. That location proves to be controversial.
November 2003: After supporters cede the location selection to the Smithsonian Board of Regents, Congress passes a bill to create the museum. Days later, Bush signs it into law.
November 2003: D.C. lawyer Donnette Cooper gives $500 to the museum, becoming its first donor.
March 2005: Lonnie G. Bunch III is named the founding director of the NMAAHC.
January 2006: The Smithsonian announces that the NMAAHC will be built on the Mall between the National Museum of American History and the Washington Monument.
July 2008 : The museum begins soliciting design proposals.
Ja n uary 2009: Curators open the museum’s first temporary exhibition at the National Museum of American History — “The Scurlock Studio and Black Washington: Picturing the Promise.”
April 12, 2009: Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup is selected to design the NMAAHC.
August 2009: The museum acquires the original casket of Emmett Till, who was lynched as a teenager in 1955 after reportedly flirting with a white woman.
2010: The museum’s design is modified, decreasing its size.
Feb. 22, 2012: The museum’s groundbreaking ceremony takes place on the Mall.
September 2012: Because of costs, architects choose bronze-painted aluminum instead of bronze for the building’s corona structure. Critics argue that aluminum doesn’t have the same reflective quality.
November 2012: The first concrete for the museum’s foundation is poured.
June 2013: Oprah Winfrey donates $12 million to the museum. Added to the $1 million she donated in 2007, it is the largest single donation to the museum. The museum’s 350-seat theater will be named after Winfrey. (Including later contributions, Winfrey has donated $21 million to the museum.)
November 2013: Large key artifacts — a Jim Crow-era railroad car and a Louisiana State Penitentiary guard tower — are lowered onto the site so the museum can be built around them.
April 2014: After testing coatings that would give the aluminum scrim a stronger luster, polyvinyl difluoride is approved by the Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission.
October 2014: The last steel beam is lifted, completing the museum’s structural framework.
January 2015: The steel-and-concrete superstructure is completed up to the roof.
April 2015: The glass enclosure is completed.
June 3, 2015: A construction worker is fatally injured while working with metal panels.
July 1, 2015: David J. Skorton becomes the 13th secretary of the Smithsonian.
September 2015: Corona panels are installed, and the building enclosure is complete except for the doors.
April 30, 2016: Actor Denzel Washington and his wife throw a fundraising party, raising more than $10 million.
Sept. 23, 2016: Starting the day before the grand opening, “Freedom Sounds,” a festival-style celebration, will take place over three days on the Washington Monument grounds.
Sept. 24, 2016: The dedication ceremony will be held outside the museum. In the afternoon, the museum will open to the public.