The National Museum of African American History and Culture opened in September 2016, after more than a century of development. Designed to "tell the American story through the lens of African American history and culture," it forms the only national museum in the USA that is exclusively devoted to the documentation of African American history and culture. It stands on Washington's National Mall as the newest, nineteenth museum of the Smithsonian Institute. Established by an Act of Congress in 2003, the museum has had over one million visitors since its opening.
The displays in the museum are divided into two halves. There are three history galleries, charting key events in the history of America, with specific reference to the experience of the African American community. These galleries begin with displays about Africa prior to the slave trade, showcasing the rich culture and advanced nature of civilisations there. The displays then move on to enslavement, the Middle Passage and Plantation Life. In all of these displays, the experience of the enslaved people is central to the interpretation, and much use is made of archive material, providing quotations which bring the voices of the enslaved to the fore of the narrative.
The displays in the history galleries go on to interpret abolition, reconstruction, emancipation and Civil Rights. They end with the inauguration of Barack Obama in 2009. The displays make use of a wealth of collections, some 36,000 objects now belong to the museum. The key to the narrative throughout all of these displays is the central position of African Americans to the national history of America.
The other side of the museum consists of three 'community galleries.' Again these focus on the achievements of African Americans, through themes like sport, military, theatre, television, literature and art. Here, some of the museum's 'celebrity' artefacts, including Michael Jordan's NBA finals jersey and one of Jimi Hendrix's vests. This section of the museum also houses the 'Robert Frederick Smith Explore Your Family History Centre,’ where visitors can look at digitised archive material with expert guidance to explore their own family tree.
The first African-American Museum, the Old Slave Mart Museum has been open sporadically since 1938. Located in Charleston, South Carolina, it was built in 1859. It is thought to have been the last surviving slave auction gallery in South Carolina. It was used briefly before the American Civil War ended slavery in the American South.
The building itself is living history, and inside there are displays attesting to what happened there, as well as providing wider context about American slavery and its lasting legacies. The collections are quite sparse in terms of objects from the slave trade but there are many photographs.
The museum makes use of personal testimonies to bring the history to life through the voices of the enslaved and their descendants. These are presented as audio clips, available for visitors to sit and listen to. The interpretation features many examples of statistics, as well as maps and contemporary images.
All of the above forward the museum's mission to broaden public understanding of Charleston as a slave-trading centre in order to reach out to the local community.
Widely claimed to be the first museum in America to solely address slavery, the Whitney Plantation is a plantation estate, museum and memorial outside New Orleans, on Louisiana's famed River Road. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the plantation was home to the Haydel family, and their enslaved workers. The site was bought in 2000 by a retired lawyer, John Cummings, who funded the renovation and redevelopment of the site, which opened to the public as a museum in 2014. On arrival, visitors must join a guided tour to see the majority of the site, but the museum is open to all.
On the property visitors will find a range of exhibits, including the Mansion House, slave quarters, a blacksmith's shop and a Baptist church. There is also a 'Wall of Honour' which features the names of all those enslaved at the plantation, as taken from the site's archives. In addition, there is a sculpture installation created by American artist Woodrow Nash called 'The Children of Whitney,' that seeks to remind visitors that slavery affected children as well as adults.
The site houses a significant collection of artefacts too. These range from plantation tools and house furniture. There is even the largest collection of sugar kettles in the whole of Louisiana. Much of this collection has been purchased at auctions around the USA, in a bid to redisplay the site as it was during the antebellum period. There are three archaeological sites which also contribute collections of material linked to the lives of the enslaved themselves. All of this provides visitors with a unique perspective of plantation life, and helps to break down the ignorance still surrounding histories of American enslavement.
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Centre opened in August 2004 and has since strived to tell the stories of those who have fought for freedom from the Underground Railway to the present day in the hope of challenging people’s ideas about inclusivity and freedom. The museum also aims to encourage and inspire people to promote and work towards freedom. Its position next to the Ohio River is a poignant reminder of its purpose as this river separated the southern slave states from the free states of the North. The National Underground Freedom Centre examines America’s heritage alongside discussions of contemporary slavery and human trafficking. It also forms part of a group of 'Museums of Conscience' alongside three others across the United States, including the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Centre reveals stories about freedom’s heroes: the men, women and children who challenge inequities to pursue greater freedom for their brothers and sisters. Through a series of rolling ‘special exhibitions’ and its vast collections displayed in several permanent exhibition spaces, the museum highlights the long history of enslavement in America, and its continuing legacy in the modern world.
The centre's most significant artifact is an original slave pen (or prison) originally built in 1830, and thought to be the only surviving example in the world. Visitors can walk through the pen and see some of the names of the people who were once held there. Alongside the pen, which is housed in its own exhibition space on the museum's second floor, there is a permanent exhibition, 'From Slavery to Freedom.' This exhibition covers three hundred years of slavery from its introduction to the Americas to its abolition. 'From Slavery to Freedom' is funded by the Oprah Winfrey Foundation and features a range of collections, including artefacts, archaeological specimens and paintings.
The centre also houses the 'world's first museum-quality, permanent exhibition on the subjects of modern-day slavery and human trafficking'; 'Invisible: Slavery Today' uses the experiences of five individuals who have been caught up in different forms of contemporary slavery and exploitation to highlight the issue in the modern world, as well as including examples of modern antislavery work around the world.
The centre also contains examples of interactive exhibits, with films, hands-on activities and live gallery talks, aimed at providing their visitors with a multi-sensory experience.
The African American Museum of Iowa was founded by a small group of members of the Mt. Zion missionary Baptist church in Cedar Rapids in 1993. The museum was closed for a year during flooding, reopening in 2009. It attempts to preserve, exhibit, and teach the African American heritage of Iowa. The museum aims to examine Iowa’s African American history, from the transatlantic slave trade until Civil Rights. The museum also offers traveling exhibits available for to rent for two weeks at a small cost. It is heavily funded by donations.
The permanent exhibits at the museum are concerned with tracing Iowa’s African American history, from its origins in western Africa to the present, through slavery, the Civil War, the Underground Railroad, segregation and the Civil Rights Movement. There is also a rolling programme of temporary exhibitions on a range of themes including, art and social history. Group tours are offered for adults. These last around 45 minutes and provide additional stories, contexts, and insight into the workings of the museum throughout the tour. For younger people the museum runs field trips and hands-on workshops offering age-appropriate lessons covering local African American history and culture. There is also an online collection which includes archives, photos, library items, and oral histories.
The museum was founded in 1984 by Dr James Cameron, a self-taught historian and public speaker. The only known survivor of a lynching, Dr Cameron used his survival experience to provide visitors with a unique view of ‘living history’. Alongside this, he expanded the museum’s exhibits and employed staff, attracting local, national and international visitors. Unfortunately, the site closed following Dr Cameron’s passing in 2006 and the economic downturn of 2008. Since 2012 America’s Black Holocaust Museum has existed as a virtual museum. It seeks to educate the public of injustices suffered by people of African-American heritage, while providing visitors with an opportunity to rethink their assumptions about race and racism. It offers a range of online exhibitions, including one about the history of the museum, and another on the perpetuation of slavery through three centuries.
There are nine exhibitions available to be accessed within the virtual museum, seven of which are a chronological study of the history of Africans in America. All of them feature the museum’s four key themes: remembrance, resistance, redemption and reconciliation. Beginning with a view of life in Africa prior to enslavement, they end with an exhibition entitled ‘Now- Free at Last?’ which considers the experiences of African Americans from the 1980s up to the present day. In addition to the chronological displays, there are three special exhibitions, two of which are concerned with the victims of lynching. Within the website there are photographs, and images of objects, alongside suggestions of further reading material. There is also a section of relevant and important news articles. The virtual museum is a member of the international Coalition of Sites of Conscience, and the Association of African American Museums. The museum runs a programme of events and speakers, and is due to re-open in a physical building in Milwaukee during the Autumn of 2018.
The museum was established by Dr. Charles Wright, an obstetrician and gynaecologist who envisioned an institution to preserve Black history after visiting a memorial to Danish World War II heroes in Denmark. It opened in 1965 as Detroit’s first international Afro-American museum. After expansions in 1978 and 1992, the museum was finally named the Charles H. Wright museum after its founder in 1998. It has since received monetary support from individuals, foundations, corporations, and government sources. The mission statement of the museum is to open minds and change lives through the exploration and celebration of African American history and culture.
Current exhibitions on display in the museum include a large 22,000 square-foot exhibition that examines Ancient and Early Modern African history and the experiences of the enslaved during the Middle Passage, alongside the experiences of those who resisted the horrors of bondage and self-emancipation. Throughout this exhibition, entitled ‘And Still We Rise: Our Journey Through African American History and Culture,’ there is a clear emphasis on the efforts of the everyday African American people who built families, businesses, educational institutions, and civic organisations in Detroit, past and present. The museum also offers exhibitions that look at the contributions of African Americans in science and technology, as well as showcasing examples of stained glass art by Samuel A. Hodge.
The museum has a busy events programme that includes community health and fitness programs, as well as lectures and education sessions for both children and adults. There are group tours for all ages, as well as led workshops for pre-school children. All of these workshops aim to highlight the lessons portrayed in the ‘And We Rise’ exhibition, prompting reflection and discussion from visitors.
The Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum opened in 1997 on the Burkle Estate- an historic house in Memphis. Originally built by a German immigrant, Joseph Burkle, the building is thought to have been part of the Underground Railroad, offering safe harbour to the enslaved on their escape route through the USA to Canada. Made up of period, nineteenth-century room settings, the museum documents the history of the Underground Railroad and the possible role of the house in that network. It also features displays about the system of transatlantic slavery, slave auctions and the everyday life of slaves in the wider Memphis area using collections of artefacts and archival material, including many advertisements from slave auctions.
The site's main feature is its secret cellar and trap doors that are thought to have offered refuge to runaway slaves. Visitors are invited to step down into the cramped cellar and kneel on the brick floor to get a deeper understanding of the plight of the enslaved. The museum also conducts guided tours around the site and the local area, highlighting the broader history of slavery in the USA.
The memorial was founded after human remains were discovered underground by city workmen who were attempting to build some government offices in the 1990s. The remains belonged to enslaved Africans who were building New Amsterdam (present day New York). The African Burial Ground National Monument honours these Africans’ memory, having reburied them in a more respectful manner. It is the oldest and largest known excavated burial ground in North America for both free and enslaved Africans. A 'sacred space in Manhattan', the mission of the memorial is to acknowledge New York's involvement with slavery and the slave trade to provide a respectful and symbolic space for the reinternment of the African remains found at the site.
The facilities at the centre include a range of exhibits, a twenty-minute film and a book/gift shop. In addition, the memorial also offers on-site presentations in the visitor centre consisting of an hour long programme. The memorial is managed by the National Park Service and the U.S Department of the Interior.
The process of memorialization and the research conducted about the enslaved African skeletal remains was negotiated extensively between the General Services Administration, the African American descendant community, historians, archaeologists, and anthropologists. Civic engagement led to the ancestral remains reinternment within the original site of discovery. An external memorial, an interpretive centre, and research library were constructed to further commemorate the financial and physical contributions of enslaved Africans to colonial New York, and to honour their memory. The exhibits examine the history of the initial discovery, the research conducted to identify the remains, the documentation process and associated artefacts.
Previously called the Robert Robinson Library, the museum was opened as the Alexandria Black History Research Centre in 1983. In 1987, the Alexandria City Council placed the operation of the museum under the office of Historic Alexandria, providing a large increase in funding which allowed for the building to be completed in 1989. Further expansion followed in 1995, when the Watson Reading Room, with books, documents, and periodicals on African American culture, was added. The museum's mission is to inform and enrich the lives of Alexandria’s residents and visitors about the diversity of the African American experience in Alexandria, Virginia. The museum also operates the Alexandria African American Heritage Park, a nine-acre park, which contains a one-acre nineteenth-century African-American cemetery that was buried under a city landfill in the 1960s.
The museum has several exhibitions, displaying collections of African objects, including wood carvings from the west coast of Africa, as well as collections from African American churches, photographs, and documents. The Museum also runs events related to African cultural and heritage such as guest lectures. The museum curates a range of temporary exhibition covering a variety of topics. For example, the Sharon J Frazier and Linwood M. Smith Dollhouse collection has featured in one such exhibition with miniatures of buildings and rooms capturing the forgotten businesses and people who were important to Alexandria’s development in the last century. A particular emphasis was also placed on African American culture and important institutions such as family, church, and school.
The Freedom House Museum was once part of the headquarters for the largest domestic slave trading firm in the United States, Franklin and Armfield. Enslaved Africans were brought from the Chesapeake Bay area and forced to the slave markets in Natchez, Mississippi and New Orleans either by foot or ship. The building has a long history. In 1828, it was leased by Isaac Franklin and John Armfield and used as a "Negro Jail" or slave pen for slaves being shipped from Northern Virginia to Louisiana. During the American Civil War the museum and its surrounding sites were used firstly as a military prison for deserters, then as the L'Ouverture Hospital for black soldiers, and finally as the barrack for contraband-slaves who fled the confederate states and sought refuge with Union troops.
The building is currently owned by the Northern Virginia Urban League but the museum is managed by the office of Historic Alexandria. It operates as a reminder to the people of Alexandria of the city's role in historic slavery.
In the basement of the building there is a powerful exhibition which depicts the harsh reality of the domestic slave trade and Alexandria's role in it, through the use of first person narratives from enslaved men and women. These are complemented with a range of contextual text panels, artefacts, images and maps.
The African-American Panoramic Experience (APEX) Museum aims to accurately interpret and present history from an African-American perspective in order to help all visitors understand and appreciate the contributions of African-Americans to America and the wider world. It was founded in 1978, and in 2018 curated a programme of events to celebrate its 40th anniversary.
The museum contains a range of exhibitions. These begin with a chronological display exploring the history of Africa. Another examines the experience of enslaved Africans in Georgia during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Other displays bring the narrative up to date, looking at women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), and the history of the local district Sweet Auburn, which has become a hub for African-Americans in Georgia. The museum has many artefacts including photographs, art, and traditional African material culture.
Formerly the Mount Moriah African Methodist Episcopal Church, the site was constructed in 1875 and opened as the Banneker-Douglass Museum (BDM) in 1984. It was named after Benjamin Banneker – a free-born African American scientist and mathematician. He protested strongly against slavery, and compared the fight of the colonists to that of the enslaved people in America when writing to Thomas Jefferson in 1791. The other namesake was Frederick Douglass, a political activist, writer, and famous abolitionist who documented his experiences both escaping from and fighting against slavery. The museum is dedicated to preserving Maryland’s African American Heritage. It contains a range of both permanent and temporary exhibitions. In light of this legacy, the BDM focuses on a community-based approach to building collections and exhibitions and in providing tours, public programs, and other services. The museum's permanent exhibition is a celebration of African Americans in Maryland; providing an overview of African American history in Maryland from 1633 to the present day. Specifically the exhibition looks at Maryland’s first African American settler, Mathias De Sousa. It includes Benjamin Banneker’s almanacs, used as an anti-slavery protest to Thomas Jefferson, as well as a recording of Frederick Douglass’s speeches against racism and slavery. The museum presently partners with Anne Arundel County Public Library, offering programs and workshops at AACPL branches. It also offers guided tours of both the permanent and temporary exhibition.
Open since April 2018, the Legacy Museum is built on the site of a former warehouse where enslaved Africans were imprisoned. The site is located between an historic slave market and the main river dock and train station where tens of thousands of enslaved people were transported through at the height of the domestic slave trade. Today it is a short walk from the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in the heart of downtown Montgomery, Alabama. The museum’s mission is to acknowledge and present the legacies of slavery, lynching, and racial segregation in the United States. The Legacy Museum is used to educate people about long-standing racial inequality in America and prompt them to search for truth and reconciliation with the aim of developing real solutions to contemporary problems. Its managing organisation, the Equal Justice Initiative, was founded in 1989 by Bryan Stevenson and was initially set up to help the poor, the incarcerated, and the condemned. In continuing this spirit of active community engagement, the museum also runs concerts and academic summits, and actively participates in human rights campaigning in Alabama.
The museum exhibition begins by showing replica constructions of slave pens, accompanied by unique audio and visual effects, attempting to allow visitors to empathise with an imprisoned slave waiting to be sold at the nearby auction block. There are also first-person accounts from enslaved people, portrayed on film by actors. Alongside these audio-visual experiences there are also more traditional exhibits that examine America’s history of racial injustice and its legacy, drawing connections across generations of Americans impacted by racial difference. These exhibits feature artefacts and archival materials. The museum also includes pieces of contemporary art, commissioned with creative partners to depict contemporary responses to the ongoing legacies of slavery and racial inequalities.
The River Road African American Museum (RRAAM) was originally housed at Tezcuco Plantation, and opened in 1994. Due to a fire, it was relocated to its present site, a restored Caribbean-style cottage from the 1890s, in 2003. Before the museum opened, there was nowhere that charted the narrative of African American experience in the rural counties along the Mississippi. It developed its collections through donations; of buildings, objects, family documents, photographs, maps and pieces of art. The RRAAM opened with the aim of educating its visitors about the lives of Africans Americans who lived and worked on the sugar and rice plantations in the region. It has since been recognised as an international repository for African American culture in Louisiana. It hosts a varied public programme alongside its permanent displays, including touring exhibitions, concerts, lectures and school workshops.
The museum's website outlines its focus as 'more than just a slavery museum'; its key themes throughout the permanent exhibits are freedom, resilience and reconciliation. Five of the museum's displays focus on the contribution of African influence in key areas of Louisiana culture, including jazz, cuisine, medicine, art and inventions.
One key exhibit features a collection of slave inventories from local plantations- the museum lists the names of over 5,000 enslaved people. 'Free People of Colour' follows on from this as an exhibit which showcases the hundreds of people who obtained their freedom in Ascension. Outside, the RRAAM has built a 'Freedom Garden' which reveals the history of Louisiana's involvement in the Underground Railroad using a range of plants that would have been cultivated by the enslaved, both in Africa and on the plantations.
The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum opened in 1983. It was set up by Drs. Elmer and Joanne Martin as a cultural and educational institution that focusses solely on the study and preservation of African American history. It is a unique organisation as it represents the histories it interprets through the use of life size wax figures, presented in historical settings. The museum has several objectives, including to increase interest in African American history, to use inspiring examples from history to motivate young people to achieve, and to improve race relations by dispelling myths of racial inequalities. The museum attracts around 300,000 visitors annually.
The museum features thirty-five installations of 'great blacks' in a range of scenarios. These cover a large temporal and geographic span, beginning with representations of key figures in pre-slavery Africa, through to dioramas of the space race and modern science. The key focus is on black achievement through all sectors of society, including politics, the military, sport and business.
Many of these installations link to the history of slavery in the United States. They examine the Middle Passage and captivity, plantation life and resistance with graphic displays of the instruments of brutality utilised in the system of enslavement. Others depict key characters in African American journeys to freedom including Henry 'Box' Brown and W.E.B. Dubois. The abolition movement is incorporated into the installations with the characters of Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth. The Underground Railroad is also depicted in a display with Harriet Tubman, amongst others. Many of these dioramas also incorporate models of children.
The displays continue to chart the twentieth century, examining the Civil Rights Movement, Black Power, and the Jim Crow Laws. Some of these dioramas illustrate the abhorrent nature of the racial violence that dominated the United States, such as lynching, in graphic detail.
The Odell S. Williams Now and Then African-American Museum was established by Sadie Roberts-Joseph in 2001. The museum is named for Odell S. Williams, a well-loved educator in the Baton Rouge area. It was founded as Joseph identified a need in the local community for a cultural space that celebrated African American history.
The museum has a range of vibrant exhibits, showcasing the contributions of local African Americans through history, across a range of different fields. These include, music, cuisine, education, politics and business. Visitors can step onboard an authentic bus from 1953 and explore Baton Rouge's role in the civil rights movement.
The museum's display on agriculture looks at the early plantation economy of the area, and the key crops that were grown then. It also explores the experience of the enslaved Africans that who used as labour on those plantations.
It has a broad events programme, and runs the area's annual Juneteenth event.
The National Civil Rights Museum is housed in the Lorraine Motel, where civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on 4 April, 1968. It was founded in 1991 with the mission of sharing and raising awareness about the lessons and legacies from the Civil Rights Movement. The museum makes use of historic collections and a range of interactive exhibits, including film and audio, to tell these stories. Recently renovated in 2013-14, the museum is one of the top rated by the American Alliance of Museums and was a founding member of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience.
The museum has five permanent exhibitions that include 260 artefacts, 40 film installations, oral histories and interactive media to guide visitors through five centuries of history. The exhibitions explore Civil Rights protest techniques- including sit ins, bus boycotts and freedom rides- as well as the Black Power movement and the assasination of Martin Luther King Jr. and its aftermath on the Civil Rights movement.
The first exhibition that visitors enter explores the longer 'Culture of Resistance' that was present in the United States prior to the Civil Rights movement, as seen through resistance to the system of slavery that dominated the country for centuries. Focussing on the period 1619-1869, the exhibition includes large scale interactive maps that emphasise the global impact of the transatlantic slave trade. There are films and art installations in the form of sculptures that show the terrible conditions inflicted on the enslaved people. Illuminated channels provide statistics and further information, including the number of people captured, goods cultivated and wealth created.
The museum also has facilities for temporary exhibitions, both on the site and online, and runs an immersive education programme for both children and adults.
The Museum of African American History operates across two sites, one in Boston and one in Nantucket. It has preserved four historic buildings, and operates two heritage trails. All of this combined makes it the largest African American Museum in New England. The museum's mission is to preserve, conserve and promote accurate interpretations of African American contributions to New England.
The African Meeting House and the Abiel Smith school, both built during the 1800s form the centre of the museum, showcasing the strength of community organisation and black craftsmanship through the centuries. Both buildings now contain exhibitions, a library and museum stores that provide interpretation to New England's free black communities prior to the Civil War. In addition, the interpretation also discusses the roles of white abolitionists in securing the legal end of slavery. The sites also house temporary exhibitions and run a range of education sessions for groups.
The National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum occupies the upper floor of the former Presbyterian Church of Smithfield, built in 1820. In 1835 it was the site of the first complete meeting of the New York State Anti-Slavery Society, and it opened as a museum to represent the history of the abolition movement in 2004. The lower floor houses the Smithfield Community Centre. In 1994, the building was added to the New York State and National Registers of Historic Places. In 2004, it was designated as a site on the New York State Underground Railroad Heritage Trail.
The Hall of Fame and Museum honours abolitionists and their achievements, periodically inducting new members. It also aims to educate about the legacy of the movement and to inspire its visitors to engage in the 'new struggle' to end racism. The museum features an introductory film that provides background context to the abolition movement, regarding the transatlantic slave trade. Written text panels, archival materials and art are used to add further depth to the narrative of the American abolition movement.
The museum also runs a programme of visitor events, and education activities.