From ground-floor exhibits illuminating slavery's horrifying story to ascending levels portraying reconstruction, the civil rights movement and the black community, the museum soars to the top with displays of African-Americans' essential contributions to music, theater, film, television and literature.
Progressing upward on the museum's ramps is an overwhelming emotional experience, leading from despair at the bottom to joy at the top.
Youngkin triumphed over former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe by raising the specter of "critical race theory," a grad school construct never taught in Virginia schools.
Youngkin ran an ad of a white woman explaining how her now adult son was upset as a high school student by reading an unnamed book later identified as Toni Morrison's "Beloved," a graphic portrait of slavery.
The sanctimonious woman denounced McAuliffe for vetoing a bill when he was governor that would have allowed the removal of books from classrooms.
At the museum's fact-laden slavery exhibits, a mostly middle-aged crowd of blacks and whites stood in shock and sorrow. The exhibits detailed how European ships from the 15th through the 19th centuries shipped millions of Africans from their native countries to the "new world," chained and packed together in foul cramped spaces.
Portugal started the slave trade in 1441, and transported 5.8 million Africans until 1836, the highest number among European nations. Before abolishing the trade in 1807, Great Britain enslaved millions and sent them to its colonies. France, the Netherlands, and even Denmark were other leading traders.
A listing of ships and their six to eight-week voyages based on insurance records gives factual, disturbing accounts of the death toll on each journey.
The British ship Mary set sail on Oct. 1, 1701, with 143 out of 179 slaves surviving to the end. The Dutch vessel Philadelphia arrived with 298 survivors from the 312 slaves that started its trip on Feb. 22, 1760. The Dutch ship Carolus Secundus, named for British monarch Charles II, had 176 survivors from the cargo of 425 who started out on Nov. 14, 1705.
Charles II granted his brother James, the Duke of York, a charter in 1660 for the Royal African Company, which shifted to the slave trade from its original plan to traffick in gold. James later ascended to the British throne.
Out of the millions of Africans transported across the Atlantic, a relatively small total of 400,000 came to North America before the U.S. Congress outlawed the slave trade in 1807.
But the end of the Atlantic trade began a horrendous new chapter of domestic slavery in the United States in which families were divided and conditions worsened on deep South plantations. Slaves were bought and sold in barbaric markets and transported within American terrritory.
By 1860, the U.S. slave population had increased to 4 million. The invention of the cotton gin in 1792 made slavery essential to the Southern economy and the production of cotton for British textile mills.
Ensuing exhibits highlight the slaves' perseverance and ingenuity. Slaves turned to music and religion, and were skilled in carpentry, masonry, agriculture and cooking. Slaves built the White House, U.S. Capitol, plantation homes, universities and commercial buildings.
The museum's prevailing theme is that African-American history is essentially American history.
Designed by Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye and the late architect Philip Freelon, the museum opened in September 2016, a stunning architectural addition to the National Mall's institutions and monuments.
The ornamental, bronze-colored metal lettice honors the ironwork done by slaves and their descendants in Louisiana, South Carolina and elsewhere, according to the museum's web site. The museum's massive windows give views of the slaves' creations, the White House and Capitol.
Leaving the museum, we stood for a moment to view the Washington Monument, honoring the nation's first president and Revolutionary War hero, who owned hundreds of slaves who kept his Mount Vernon plantation running. Across the way, sunshine glowed upon the Jefferson Monument, a memorial to another slave-owning Founding Father.
In a brisk breeze, we walked to the Lincoln Monument, where families took photos before Lincoln's majestic statue.
As I read Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Second Memorial Address printed on adjoining walls, I looked up at his solemn visage, reassured that his words of reconciliation would one day prevail.