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.
Written and directed by Mervyn Weir, 'Nobody Knows' used drama, dance, music and imagery to explore the history of the transatlantic slave trade and its legacy today. Told through the eyes of Olaudah Equiano, the play celebrated the dignity, pride, and spirit of Black people as they fought for emancipation from slavery. In 2007 the play was presented by Krik Krak productions during the Routes to Freedom season at The Drum in Birmingham.
The project began in 1987 when Central Club approached Reading Borough Council about the possibility of a mural project. A project steering group was set up consisting of representatives of Central Club, Reading Borough Council and Berkshire County Council (who then ran Central Club as part of the Youth and Community Service). It was agreed that the project should aim to achieve a number of objectives:
· A high quality visual artwork
· Community involvement – both Central Club members and the wider community
· Reflecting African Caribbean culture, since Central Club had a high proportion of African Caribbean members
In 1988 a number of artists were interviewed, and Alan Howard was offered the commission. Alan was keen to encourage the involvement of Central Club members both in a consultative capacity but also more directly in the design and execution of the mural. An apprenticeship scheme was established, where a limited number of people were offered the opportunity to work alongside Alan and receive training in planning, design and technical skills.
The process of planning the mural involved a number of steps:
· Wide ranging discussions with Central Club members and the wider African Caribbean community
· Consultation with funders – Reading Borough Council and Earley Charities
· Consultation with neighbouring residents and businesses in the London Street area
Out of this process the theme for the mural emerged, and it was agreed that the mural should depict the positive role that black people have played throughout history, including in Reading itself. The mural therefore includes figures such as Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King and Bob Marley as well as Reading-based people involved in founding Central Club. The final panel of the mural and the various symbols look to the future and depicts a number of tools – positive and negative – that people use to shape the future.