10 Best African American Museums

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All across the United States, there are various African American Museums that have their main focus as telling the stories of African American people. These museums are at times a product of communal initiatives that are volunteer aided or are funded by national institutions. Either way, museums play a major role in society as they document and keep memories of leaders, eras, and injustices that shaped black communities over centuries.

These museums are all important in passing down information and in educating others about how far humanity and civility have come and they also help the African American people connect with their roots and origins. Below is a list of the top 10 African American museums currently:

National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington DC

WASHINGTON, DC – JULY 16: Tourist walk past the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture that is currently under construction July 16, 2015 in Washington, DC. The museum is located on the National Mall near the Washington Monument and is scheduled to be completed and dedicated in 2016.Ê (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The National Museum of African American History and Culture sits on the National Mall, right in the capital of the United States. The main aim of this museum is to highlight all aspects of the culture as well as the experience of African Americans. The exhibits tell various detailed stories that are not only deep but also moving, about slavery, the impeccable influence that black artists had on music, the Civil Rights Movement, the black soldiers’ efforts and their traces of victories, as well as much more.

It has the most extensive collection detailing back to more than 500 years of black history and cultural evolution in America. There are various politicians, activists, regular black people, and sportspeople who are celebrated in this African American Museum. The artifacts that are exhibited in the museum detail, the ugly, bad, and good of America’s past as well as the present. For example, there are remnants of a slave ship as well as a red 1973 Cadillac belonging to Chuck Berry. 

Whitney Plantation, Wallace, Louisiana

Slavery and the plantation system plays a big role in the history of Louisiana. John Cummings, a white retired lawyer pointed out that Louisiana as well as the larger United States has not yet reconciled its past. John Cummings used his real estate earnings to buy Whitney plantation, which sits along the river Mississippi and between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. He then transformed it into a unique African American museum whose main focus is slavery.

When you get to this museum, you are given a card that has the name and story of someone who was enslaved. The guests will then be taken around and shown the actual grounds where slaves were toiling in order to cultivate rice and sugar during the 18th as well as 19th centuries. The tour consists of several memorials, the Big House as well as the Original slave cabins making it very moving and insightful.

The National Voting Rights Museum and Institute, Selma Alabama

Selma’s National Voting Rights Museum and Institute is located on the Edmund Pettus Bridge and can be said to be way more than a simple civil rights museum. In March 1965, America was finally accepting ‘Bloody Sunday’s events. Several activists for civil rights who had peacefully and silently marched to Montgomery from Selma had been ambushed with tear gas, clubs, and bullwhips by the state troopers.

The week following this event, President Lyndon B. Johnson gave a groundbreaking speech to the US Congress as a voting rights plea quoting a famous phrase that was borrowed from civil rights activists, ‘we shall overcome.’

Other activists alongside Martin Luther King Jr. wept after this speech which led to the passing of the Voting Rights Act that banned any measure or practice in place in the states in Southern America that systematically denied black people the right to vote. This was a big landmark in the Civil Rights Movement.

This African American Museum is seen as a time capsule as well as a dedication to all those who dared to march for the cause of justice in 1965. You can see the original torn clothes as well as the footprints of those who marched. In addition, at the museum, you will learn more about the other leaders in the movement who are not as popular.

National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tennessee

The civil rights icon, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on the 4th of April 1968, just hours after he delivered his memorable speech about the promised land. The assassination happened in Memphis at the Lorraine Motel.

Although his death caused a lot of commotion in the world, it also emphasized to Black Americans just how important it was to be steadfast in our demand and fight for freedom. Just steps from where Martin was murdered, sits the National Civil Rights Museum. The African American Museum is home to various videos, artifacts, and oral histories that all detail the experience of Black Americans from the days of slavery to how their life was under Jim Crow as well as the start and life of the Civil Rights Movement.

Visitors are given a chance to sit at the very lunch counter that Greensboro students used to stage sit-ins back in 1960 and also to go on a bus ride relieving Rosa Parks’s experience as the leader of the Montgomery bus boycott.

The Legacy Museum, Alabama

Montgomery was one of the leading hubs for the slave trade in the 19th century in Alabama. The Equal Justice Initiative in 2018 made it possible for Legacy Museum to open. It is built on a site that was once a slave warehouse and it is simply a few minutes’ walk from where was one of America’s busiest auction houses for slaves.

The name, ‘From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration’ is a true perception of the experience of black people in the United States. There are various artwork, videos, and exhibits that provide insights into the systematic inequalities that the black community faced and continues to face in the present day in this African American Museum.

The Studio Museum, Harlem, New York

African American museum

The Studio Museum started as a small space that was above a store that sold liquor in 1968. Since then, they have managed to expand to a multi-million-dollar African American Museum that was opened in 2021. The aim of the museum which has always been to champion black art as well as culture has been a success.

The studio continues promoting various works of established as well as up-and-coming artists who have an African descent. Each year, the museum hosts one artist, and most of these artists who have been hosted in residence have managed to further their careers successfully. The permanent collection at the museum has a number of pieces which include prints, drawings, installations, and photographs that are all made by artists who are Black American and have African descent.

National Museum of African American Music, Nashville, Tennessee

This National Museum of African American Music museum was opened in 2021. The African American Museum shows how it is that various genres of music, not only in the United States but all around the world, are linked intrinsically to Black culture. The genres that are most popular in the U.S. such as country, blues, rock and roll, and jazz just to name a few can all be traced back to the Africans who were enslaved and had very strong musical traditions. This African American Museum houses more than one thousand five hundred artifacts, including B.B. King’s guitar.

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Cincinnati, Ohio

It is estimated that more than one hundred thousand people used the Underground Railroad to escape slavery. The dedicated abolitionists would provide onward passages as well as safe houses for the black people who sought refuge in Canada as well as states that were American free. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center has its main aim of celebrating and telling all the stories of people who risked their lives for justice. In this African American Museum, you will learn about heroic railroad agents such as Harriet Tubman.

The Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, Houston, Texas

This African American Museum is situated in Midtown Houston at the Houston Light Guard Armory. The main aim of the museum is to highlight the different stories of the black military soldiers who took part in fighting for their country. All through, they were oppressed and were even given the task of fighting off Native Americans who sought to reclaim their stolen lands. It is the Native Americans who named the soldiers, ‘Buffalo soldiers.’

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Kansas City, Missouri

This museum details stories of black baseball players who were forced to travel across the state as they refused to give in to the injustice that society was throwing at them trying to stop them from playing baseball. Visitors can stand next to the greatest black players of all time such as Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige, and Buck O’Neil. They are also given the chance to watch how it is that Negro leagues came to life through a documentary by James Earl Jones.

Conclusion

Other than these popular African American museums whose main focus is usually the Civil Rights Movement as well as the history and legacy of slavery, various other smaller museum spaces focus on other African American heroes who may not be as popular and there are even others that focus on African American art. All these museums should however be among your places to visit as you will learn so much more about the history of African Americans and their heritage.

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