9 Black Museums to Visit Across the U.SMay 08, 2021 09:00AM ● By Boitumelo Masihleho
African American history and culture is inseparable from the identity of the United States. Sadly, a lot of Black history isn’t taught as in-depth as the rest of American history in schools. Now, more than ever, with the #BlackLivesMatter movement gaining prominence, putting a spotlight on African American history and culture is important. May is Historic Preservation Month, and across the country, many compelling museums, monuments, and landmark trails commemorate significant moments in African American history—both the traumatic and the triumphant. Black museums and memorial sites are a great place to connect with the complex history of African Americans. Here are nine destinations across the U.S. for discovering more about African-American history and culture.
The National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM) traces African American music traditions from the 1600s to the present day, ranging from spiritual hymns to blues, jazz, gospel, R&B, and hip-hop. The NMAAM opened in Nashville, Tennessee in January 2021. It is the world’s only institution dedicated solely to preserving and celebrating the central role African Americans have played in shaping American music. The 56,000-square-foot museum features seven interactive galleries with more than 1,500 artifacts, objects, and memorabilia on display, from traditional African drums to a gown worn by the iconic late singer, Whitney Houston.
The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture reopened its doors in May 2021. It provides an opportunity for those who are interested in African American culture to explore and revel in this history through interactive exhibitions. It was initially funded in 1915 by Black Civil War veterans, and a signed public resolution from President Calvin Coolidge in 1929 established a commission to plan its construction, but it only opened its doors for the first time in the fall of 2016. The museum houses more than 400 years of artifacts and historical information detailing the African American experience.
This museum offers 82,000 square feet of Maryland history. The Lewis Museum, the largest African American museum in Maryland, has been the authentic voice of Maryland African American history and culture since it opened in 2005. The Museum’s education department has developed an African American curriculum and provides teacher training that is invaluable to Maryland’s 850,000 students and 50,000 teachers.
The mission of the Alexandria Black History Museum is to enrich the lives of Alexandria's residents and visitors, to foster tolerance and understanding among all cultures, and to stimulate appreciation of the diversity of the African American experience. The building was formerly the Robert Robinson Library, originally constructed in 1940 as the first "separate but equal" library for African Americans in the segregated city.
This San Francisco museum exhibits contemporary art from artists across the African diaspora. MoAD, a contemporary art museum, celebrates Black cultures, ignites challenging conversations, and inspires learning through the global lens of the African Diaspora. Since opening in December 2005, MoAD has brought people of all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds together in the heart of the city so they can explore and discover the culture, history, and art of people of African descent.
This is the only plantation tour in Louisiana dedicated to centering the personal histories and experiences of enslaved people. It opened up to the public as a museum in December 2014. The plantation’s restoration was funded by the museum’s founder, John Cummings, who was a trial attorney from New Orleans. Cummings owned and operated the property for 20 years, from 1999 to 2019, and he restored the plantation over 15 years before opening it to the public. Whitney Plantation educates the public about the history of slavery and its legacies.
This Midwestern museum is home to 35,000 artifacts including rare documents that reflect the role Black people played in Detroit’s labor movement .
Established in 1965, this Detroit museum holds the world’s largest permanent collection of African-American culture. Among the more than 35,000 artifacts, you can find interactive kids stations, displays on trailblazers in science and engineering, and stained-glass windows by Samuel A. Hodge that depict stories of notable African Americans, from dancers to civil rights activists. The annual three-day African World Festival, held in August, celebrates the cultures of the diaspora with hosts free performances by gospel legends such as the Clark Sisters, African drummers, and dance troupes.
The African American Museum of History and Culture contains exhibits from a number of Natchez- related African American historic sites, important citizens, and events. It has works of art, photographs, documentaries and books starting from 1716, including those of native son Richard Wright. This city in Mississippi has a legacy as the second-largest slave market in the South and of the Rhythm Nightclub fire, where more than 200 Black people died. The museum highlights the Parchman Ordeal, where hundreds of civil rights protestors seeking equal voting rights were rounded up and put in the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman in 1965. “People come here to start their ancestry search,” says Bobby Dennis, chairman of the Natchez Association of African American Culture. “They can access our log, pull up names of soldiers, and then go to the Department of Defense for records. This is a major step in finding information, because many records of Blacks were destroyed or hidden.”
The Museum began with Paul Stewart, who as a child playing Cowboys and Indians, always played an Indian because he was told, "There is no such thing as a Black cowboy." At the Black American West Museum & Heritage Center, Black cowboys are highlighted, as well as the history of the Five Points neighborhood of Denver. From the 1920s to the 1960s, Five Points was called the Harlem of the West because of its rich jazz history, restaurants, and nightclubs. The neighborhood was frequented by the likes of Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, and Ella Fitzgerald. The museum explores the contributions of Black people in the development of the western United States through its collections, programs, and exhibits.
Boitumelo Masihleho is a South African digital content creator. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Rhodes University in Journalism and Media Studies and Politics and International Studies.
She's an experienced multimedia journalist who is committed to writing balanced, informative and interesting stories on a number of topics. Boitumelo has her own YouTube channel where she shares her love for affordable beauty and lifestyle content.
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