First, reserve tickets online in advance. You don't have to pay, but need to reserve a time to visit. And, try to book an early time. There is A LOT to see in this museum.
Second, plan how you will get there. Traffic can be hectic in DC and parking is not always easy, so get that figured out and allow yourself time to get there.
Third, eat lunch in the cafe!! It is the best museum food you will ever find. It is a full-fledged restaurant with fabulous meals that truly mirror various regions of the US and the common meals African Americans in those regions may have eaten. It's not cheap, but it's so good!
Now, about the museum itself. They will direct you towards the bottom levels first, which will allow you to learn this history in a chronological order. I highly recommend this method. Spend the bulk of your time in these lower levels. It is well worth it and is really the heart of the museum. On the upper levels, you will approach more of the current day / modern history. Here, you will find incredible artifacts and write-ups on athletes, musicians, chefs, entertainers, and other well-known African-Americans. This is an area where you might breeze through certain parts and focus on things that interest you to learn more about specific people. We spent about 5 hours exploring and could easily go back and continue to learn more.
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