By Julie Henning 

Ethnic Museums are among the most important museums in America. Both preserving the country’s heritage and telling the stories that define the culture, here are five ethnic museums worth exploring.

National Civil Rights Museum
Memphis, Tennessee 

National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tennessee museum
[/media-credit] National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tenn.

A main attraction in the South Main Arts District in Memphis, Tennessee, the National Civil Rights Museum traces the history of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States from the 17th century to the present day

The museum complex includes several historically notable buildings, including the Lorraine Motel, where Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968. Designed with a self-guided visit in mind, groups enjoy historical films, oral histories and interactive-exhibits at their own pace. Docent-led tours are available for an additional fee. Allow two to three hours for a visit. 

Skirball Cultural Center
Los Angeles, California

Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles California museum
[/media-credit] Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles

Drawing over 600,000 visitors each year, the Skirball Cultural Center describes itself as a dynamic Jewish cultural institution. Based out of Los Angeles, California, the center operates with a mission to explore the connections between 4,000 years of Jewish heritage and the vitality of American democratic ideals.

A popular exhibit with groups is “Visions and Values, Jewish Life from Antiquity to America.” Featuring of the largest collections of Judaica — artifacts pertaining to Jewish life and customs — in the world, visitors’ experience how the many lands and civilizations where Jews lived have shaped modern-day traditions and values.

National Museum of Mexican Art
Chicago, Illinois 

Located in the heart of downtown Chicago’s West Side, the National Museum of Mexican Art is home to one of the country’s largest Mexican art collections, including more than 7,000 seminal pieces from ancient Mexico to the present.

Permanent exhibits range from folk art to photography, paintings, drawings, sculptures, prints and textiles. The museum’s collection of posters documenting Mexican events, programs and exhibitions in the United States is among the finest in the nation.

National Museum of the American Indian
Washington, D.C.

National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, D.C. museum
[/media-credit] National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, D.C.

The National Museum of the American Indian sits in the shadow of the United States Capitol building on the eastern edge of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The five-story, 250,000-square-foot building stands in contrast to its marble-clad neighbors; the sand-colored structure was designed to mimic natural rock formations shaped by wind and water over a period of thousands of years.

The first national museum in America to be exclusively dedicated to Native Americans, the National Museum of the American Indian pays tribute to the life, languages, literature, history and arts of the Native Americans of the Western Hemisphere. Guided gallery tours are available for large groups and include an introduction to the museum’s history and collections. Tours also highlight one of the main exhibition galleries.

Located on the ground level, the award-winning Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe serves the indigenous cuisines of the Americas, focusing on the history of Native food and is a wonderful way to enhance the overall museum experience. 

Wing Luke Museum
Seattle, Washington

Wing Luke Museum, Seattle Washington
[/media-credit] Wing Luke Museum, Seattle

Seattle’s Chinatown-International District is home to the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience. A Smithsonian Institution affiliate, The Wing is dedicated to engaging the public to explore issues related to the culture, art and history of Asian Pacific Americans.

Located on the museum’s second floor, the museum’s permanent exhibit “Honoring Our Journey” showcases the pan-Asian Pacific American immigrant and refugee experience with five themes: home, getting here, making a living, social justice and community. Guided tours are available for groups interested in exploring all of the permanent and rotating exhibits as well as the community portrait galleries.