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The exterior of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

WASHINGTON, DC — In the heart of what was once known as Chocolate City — a city that was the home of Marvin Gaye, go-go, and the March on Washington, but also where slaves helped build some of the most prominent buildings in America — a new museum has found its place on National Mall. Visiting the National African American Museum of History and Culture during its opening weekend, what I most noticed was the play of light and darkness. This contrast is present in the very structure of the building — with its exterior of both a bronze-hued metal lattice and glass — and recurs throughout the exhibits inside.

Beginning in the underground historical galleries, dark walls surround visitors, while the narrative guides you through the pain, suffering, and redemption of African American history. It’s best to travel upward through the museum. Moving to the upper level galleries, visitors are greeted by both the light coming through the building and a popping celebration of culture, community, and music — accented by florescent bursts of color from the likes of the P-Funk Mothership. The interplay of light and dark is what I tried to capture on my first journey through the museum alongside the thousands of other visitors opening weekend.

Visitors wait in line to get into the National Museum of African American History and Culture on opening weekend

The lobby of the National Museum of African American History and Culture

Part of the historical displays in the the National Museum of African American History and Culture

Shackles on display in the historical galleries in the the National Museum of African American History and Culture

A historical display in the the National Museum of African American History and Culture

Part of the historical displays in the the National Museum of African American History and Culture

Part of the historical displays in the the National Museum of African American History and Culture

Part of the historical displays in the the National Museum of African American History and Culture

Visitors use computer terminals in the the National Museum of African American History and Culture

Part of the historical galleries in the the National Museum of African American History and Culture

A gallery in the National Museum of African American History and Culture

The contemplative court at the National Museum of African American History and Culture

The contemplative court at the National Museum of African American History and Culture

A neon sign from Soul Train at the National Museum of African American History and Culture

The Parliament-Funkadelic Mothership at the National Museum of African American History and Culture

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is located at 1400 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC. Time entry passes are sold out for the rest of 2016; passes for the first three months of 2017 go on sale October 5 at 9am.

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