Founded as the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum and opened in 1967, the Anacostia Community Museum was envisioned by S. Dillon Ripley, then-Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, as an outreach effort by the Smithsonian to the local African American community.
John Kinard, a local community activist and minister, was appointed founding director and employed his skills in community engagement, organizing, and outreach to shape the practice and direction of the museum.
Following the inaugural exhibition, which was an eclectic mix of art and artifacts from other Smithsonian museums, local residents and museum advisory board members expressed a desire to have a museum that was relevant to their experiences and history.
Therefore, a slate of exhibitions and public programs focused on African American history, community issues, local history, and the arts was developed.
The change was exemplified by such exhibition projects as the Frederick Douglass Years, Lorton Reformatory: Beyond Time, The Rat: Man's Invited Affliction, The Anacostia Story, and the Barnett-Aden Collection.
Educational programming focused on bringing a wide array of arts and cultural experiences to local school children and adult audiences.
The museum made a strong connection with local school teachers to engage with the museum in program development.
Additionally, the museum established a hands-on children’s room and convened a youth advisory council. This work established the museum as a model for community museums and a principal force in the African American museum movement.