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A History of Black Futures

From Benjamin Banneker’s Almanac to P. Funk’s Mothership, from Octavia Butler’s fiction to the Black Panther suit, Afrofuturism has provided a dynamic outlet for authors, thinkers, artists, and activists to understand and interpret the history of race and Black cultural identity.

Drawing from the past and present through a prism of technology and fantasy, Afrofuturism provides a powerful lens for imagining the African American experience. From artists to astronauts, the themes of Afrofuturism reflect the forward-facing possibilities of Black life—possibilities which stretch beyond contemporary reality.

"Afrofuturism tells us about how the past thought about the future; and how African Americans dreamt of worlds they wished to occupy and soon brought into being."

Kevin Young, Andrew W. Mellon Director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture

Cover of Octavia Butler’s 1977 science fiction novel Mind of My Mind

In 1993 cultural critic Mark Dery coined the term Afrofuturism. But even before the name Afrofuturism existed, the ideas of Afrofuturism were long present—for African Americans have always reimagined their pasts, sought a better present, and envisioned brighter futures.

Cover of Octavia Butler’s 1977 science fiction novel Mind of My Mind

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Through technological experimentation, lyrical speculation, and forward-looking design, Black artists have used Afrofuturistic ideals as a medium to liberate their artistry and create new musical futures. This timeline highlights where Afrofuturist expression can be seen in Black musical history, whether through experiments in composition, the design of new technologies, or the exploring of ideas.

At the top of the cover, Parliament is in yellow and pink font over a galaxy, above a UFO space ship.
A sliver space vehicle with multiple legs and colored lights, replicating the originally Mothership.

Afrofuturism NMAAHC Collections Search

Search the Museum’s collection to find object related to Afrofuturism

Afrofuturism: A History of Black Futures

This illustrated companion book to NMAAHC’s Afrofuturism: A History of Black Futures exhibition explores the power of Afrofuturism to reclaim the past and reimagine Black futures.

A screenshot of a the presentation title slide for Claiming Space. It has a graphic of two saturated colors in a collage look.

Claiming Space Symposium: Presented by the Smithsonian Afrofuturism Series

The Claiming Space Symposium examines Afrofuturist thought across oceans, into land reclamations, up to the stars, through cyberspace, and inward as Black visionaries look to the infinite space within.

Afrofuturism: The Orgin title slide for the presentation. It has women dressed in modernize, futurist African outfits, collaged together.
A blue flyer for Afrofuturism: A history of Black Futures. Three images are overlaying each other on the right and information about the challenge is on the left.