Luckily, there are many other places in the area dedicated to African-American history and culture. Some of these museums and institutions are also hosting parties and special events timed to coincide with the new Smithsonian’s debut — providing an excellent way to celebrate the Sept. 24 launch without wading into the madness on the Mall.
Before the golden crown rose on the Mall, this little museum in Southeast D.C. was the Smithsonian’s home for African-American history. These days, its focus is on urban African-American communities, especially D.C.’s. Through Oct. 23, you can see “Twelve Years That Shook and Shaped Washington: 1963–1975,” an exhibit that traces how D.C. found its local identity amid national civil rights and antiwar movements and features lots of nifty artifacts, including Chuck Brown’s guitar. 1901 Fort Place SE; open daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., free.
Around 200,000 black men helped preserve the Union and end slavery by fighting in the Civil War. This small museum tells their stories through a permanent display of letters, uniforms, rifles and other artifacts. In addition to the usual daily demonstrations and talks, the museum is presenting a free play, “Battle Hymn of a Freedman,” Sept. 24 at 2 p.m. The play centers on the massacre at Fort Pillow, Tenn., where Confederate troops overran a small Union outpost and slaughtered most of the black soldiers there, even after they surrendered. On Sept. 24 at 10 a.m. you can also watch the opening ceremony for the Smithsonian museum streamed live on a big screen. 1925 Vermont Ave. NW; open Tuesdays-Fridays, 10 a.m.-6:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sundays, noon-4 p.m., free.
With commanding views of D.C., this graceful mansion was the home of the abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass from 1877 to his death in 1895. Born into slavery, he went on to publish an important abolitionist newspaper, advise President Abraham Lincoln and aid suffragists. At his house, you can see the violin and piano he taught himself to play and the bedroom he once slept in — upright. (Apparently people thought that was healthy back then.) 1411 W St. SE; open daily, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., though the only way to see the house is ranger-led tours. Reserve your tour online for $1.50.
The daughter of former slaves, Mary McLeod Bethune managed to claw her way out of abject poverty thanks to the power of education, and she worked the rest of her life to help others do the same. She started a college in Daytona, Fla. (now known as Bethune-Cookman University), founded the National Council of Negro Women and held a high-ranking position under Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1943, she and the National Council of Negro Women bought this Victorian house in Logan Circle for $15,500; it served as Bethune’s home until 1949 and as the council’s headquarters until 1966. Visitors can take a guided tour of the house, including the sitting room where Bethune used to meet with her good friend Eleanor Roosevelt. 1318 Vermont Ave. NW; open daily, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., free.
The U Street neighborhood was more than just “Black Broadway.” In the first half of the 20th century, it was the heart of one of America’s largest thriving African-American enclaves, a place that many black activists, politicians and intellectuals called home. On Sept. 25, you can take a free guided walking tour of the LeDroit Park section of the neighborhood and stop by the former residences of African-American feminist Anna J. Cooper; the first popularly elected black senator, Edward Brooke; and civil rights advocate and congressman Oscar De Priest. Or, take a self-guided walking tour of the whole neighborhood — pick up a free guide at the U Street Visitor Center (1211 U St. NW) or download it. Meet at Florida & Sixth avenues NW; Sept. 25, 2-4 p.m., register free online.
More about the new museum