A museum embraces the triumph and struggle of black America

The museum’s saw-toothed exterior, inspired by a Yoruban design motif, provides lively contrast to the nearby Washington Monument

ANY HISTORY MUSEUM IS A storytelling machine. But the newest one in Washington, D.C., starts telling its story before you even enter. The very silhouette of the National Museum of African American History and Culture has embedded meanings. Above a glass-enclosed lobby, the building rises in three inverted trapezoids. That multitiered exterior is borrowed from a crown motif of the Yoruba, the West African people who established one of the most important civilizations in sub-Saharan Africa and who also made up a sizable part of the U.S. slave population. So in its outlines, the building remembers the continent that was the homeland of most American slaves. But it also refers to the American side of the African-American experience, because that saw-toothed frame is covered by a perforated lattice of bronze-coated aluminum meant to recall the ornamental ironwork produced by

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