In just about every city there are several cultural institutions. Many celebrate our black history. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C., and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati are excellent examples the story of the Black people’s struggle, pain, and triumphs.
There are smaller museums with big stories to share, where you will rarely have to worry about crowds. There is almost always a passionate curator, steeped in the local lore and legends, ready to tell stories you will not hear elsewhere. At these smaller Black history museums, the intimate lessons of the past are priceless.
Alexandria Black History Museum, Virginia
In the heart of the Parker-Gray Historic District, the Alexandria Black History Museum is in a 1940s structure that was originally the Robinson Library, the Black community’s first public library. Inside, you’ll find stories like that of Ferdinand Day, the first Black chairman of a public-school board in Virginia, who helped desegregate higher education. Then there’s Lewis Henry Bailey, who was sold from the Alexandria Slave Pen—part of the headquarters for the largest domestic slave trading firm in the United States, Franklin and Armfield. When Bailey was emancipated in 1863, he walked from Texas back to Alexandria and went on to found five churches and two schools. “We tell the deep, wonderful, untold stories and hope mistakes and horrors aren’t repeated,” says museum director Audrey Davis
Natchez Museum of African American History and Culture, Mississippi
This Natchez museum starts in 1716 and works its way to the present via art, photographs, documentaries, books—including those of native son Richard Wright—and more. The city’s legacy includes Forks of the Road, the second largest slave market in the South; the Rhythm Nightclub fire, where more than 200 Black people died; and 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. The museum is unique in its Civil War history: “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.”
Black American West Museum & Heritage Center, Denver
At this museum, you’ll learn about the Black Cowboys and the Five Points neighborhood of Denver. From the 1920s to 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. Then there’s the story of “Stagecoach” Mary Fields, the first Black postwoman in the U.S.
Other interesting museums, but I do not have the space to detail are:
Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, Charlotte, North Carolina
Jack Hadley Black History Museum, Thomasville, Georgia
Chappie James Museum of Pensacola, Florida
African American Museum and Library at Oakland, California
Whether you are black, white, or brown, museums tell our history, even art museums tell history. So now, it may be a good time to explore your local museum or go check out one of the above.
Conde Nest Travel