On Sept. 24, 2016, more than 100 years after the idea was conceived, the National Museum of African-American History and Culture will open its doors.

The NMAAHC sits on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., just minutes away from the Washington Monument and the Capitol. It will soon be among the 19 museums and galleries of the Smithsonian Institution.

Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images.

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On May 13, 1862, Robert Smalls donned a straw hat, hoisted a Confederate flag over a warship, and piloted himself to freedom.

Yeah, seriously.

At 22, Robert Smalls was working in servitude for the Confederacy. Desperate for deliverance, the young man planned an extraordinary and daring escape, and when an opportunity presented itself, he risked life and limb to free himself and 16 others.

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There is no better way to celebrate Black History Month than with historic photographs from an era long-gone ... and Beyoncé.

The photos are publicly available for the first time thanks to the recently digitized collection from the Farm Security Administration, which captured America on film from the mid-1930s to 1942. Along with other agencies' photos, the collection totals more than 170,000 pictures

The images below offer a rare glimpse into the lives of African-American workers and families. Many were employed as sharecroppers or tenant farmers, but landowners often kept these farmers in their debt, leaving many hardworking families poverty-stricken. Conditions worsened with the Great Depression, as African-American workers were hit especially hard. By 1932, nearly half were out of work. It was a bleak period in history, but it laid the groundwork for many of the labor movements and civil rights protests to come. 

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