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Top 10 African American History Museums in America

Shanea Patterson is a writer based in New York. She's worked with clients like Instacart, Tailwind, Columbia, Esurance, and LifeLock.

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African American museums can give African Americans the historical and cultural relevance they often lack living in this country.

Taking them to a museum dedicated to African American history is extremely beneficial to their psychological health.

Since they’re not being taught a majority of their own history in school, it's up to us, as parents, to bridge the gap.

And with over 100 African-American-history-themed museums in the United States, you can find one in almost any state.If you happen to be in the vicinity of any of these museums, drop by and have a look around.

1. African American Museum (Philadelphia, PA)

The first museum built by a major United States city to house and interpret the life and work of African Americans, the African American Museum in Philadelphia offers educational programs, guided tours, film screenings and even a Children’s Corner where kids can interact with a hands-on installment in which they can explore the daily lives of children in Philadelphia during that time period.

The Traveling Trunks, however, is by far one of the most interesting attractions. “Imagine finding a wooden trunk filled with objects, papers and clothing from another time and another life,” the website eloquently puts it. The exhibition represents the lives of a few of Philadelphia’s most interesting African Americans from the Revolutionary and Civil War Eras.

You and your children can discover stories often untold. You might also opt to experience the Iconic Images Mural Tour, which celebrates the rich culture and history of people of the African Diaspora. There’s more than enough to learn and experience at the AAMP.

2. The California African American Museum (Los Angeles, CA)

The California African American Museum (CAAM) offers not only exhibitions of art, but programs, workshops, events and even a center for dialogue and discourse.

The CAAM is located in LA’s Exposition Park near the Natural History Museum, the California Science Center and the coming Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. Just some of the exhibitions include Gary Simmons: Fade to Black (available until July 2018) which features art that addresses race, class, and memory; Face to Face (available until October 8, 2017) which brings together contemporary portraiture; and Intersections: Caribbean and Brazilian Art from the Permanent Collection (available till October 8, 2017).

The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 5pm and on Sundays from 11am to 5pm. And the best part? Admission is always FREE. Who doesn’t like the sound of that?

3. The National Museum of African American History and Culture (Washington D.C.)

The National Museum of African American History and Culture offers historical and cultural exhibits and collections about the American South, Civil Rights, the American West, Clothing and Dress, Communities, Education, Military, Literature, Family, Music, Photography, Politics, Religious Groups, Segregation, and Slavery. The museum has collected nearly 37,000 artifacts, documents, photography and media. At the NMAAHC, adults can participate in book discussions; expressive culture, lifestyle and skill building workshops; and participate in performance-based programs that highlight the themes of resilience, determination, and ingenuity. The NMAAHC is located at 1400 Constitution Avenue NM in D.C. and is open 7 days per week, 364 days per year from 10am to 5:30pm. It only closes on Christmas Day.

4. Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History (Detroit, MI)

The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History has some exciting upcoming exhibitions, some of which include:

  • And Still We Rise: Our Journey Through African American History and Culture (a long-term permanent exhibition that contains 20 galleries about The Middle Passage beginning with early civilizations in Africa)
  • Say it Loud: Art, History, Rebellion (6/23/17—1/2/18) (an exhibition that commemorates the 1960s rebellions and observes the 50th anniversary of the Detroit Rebellion)
  • Bent, But Unbroken (6/28/17—10/29/17) (an exhibition that celebrates the resilience of women and how they have remained unbroken throughout history).

The museum is located in Midtown Detroit’s Cultural Center at 315 East Warren Avenue at Brush Street next to the Michigan Science Center. It’s open Tuesday through Saturday from 9am to 5pm and on Sundays from 1pm to 5pm. It’s also open on MLK Day from 9am to 6pm and every Monday during black history month (9am to 5pm). Admission is $8 for adults and $5 for kids (ages 3-12) and seniors. Kids under 3 are free.

5. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (Cincinnati, OH)

Located in downtown Cincinnati on the banks of the Ohio River, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center features both traveling and permanent exhibits.

The museum highlights historical events from the era of the Underground Railroad to contemporary times. Some of the permanent exhibitions include The Struggle Continues (examining the fight for freedom around the world and the reminder that slavery still exists in other forms) and From Slavery to Freedom (which portrays three centuries of slavery from its inception in America to the abolition of slavery at the end of the Civil War).

Admission is $15 for adults and $10.50 for children ages 3-12. Children under 3 are free. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11am to 5pm and tickets are sold until 4pm.

6. The Great Blacks in Wax Museum (Baltimore, MD)

The Great Blacks in Wax Museum is the first and only wax museum of African American history in the country.

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The aim of the museum is to “stimulate an interest in African American history by revealing the little-known, often-neglected facts of history, to use great leaders as role models to motivate youth to achieve, [and] to improve race relations by dispelling myths of racial inferiority and superiority” (Great Blacks in Wax).

Take a daily tour and discover 100 life-sized wax figures, which are presented in dramatic and historical scenes, according to the site. Be prepared for full-on theatrics complete with special lighting, sound effects and animation.

Some of the figures you can expect to see are Harriet Tubman, Benjamin Banneker, and Billie Holiday, but there are many, many more national treasures.

You can even see the chronicling of the history of African people from around the world. There’s also a replica of a slave ship with Middle Passage history. This museum is one you surely don’t want to miss!

7. Reginald F. Lewis Museum (Baltimore, MD)

The Reginald F. Lewis Museum celebrates African American history in Maryland. The exhibitions teach visitors about slavery and how it “broke the bonds of family and community among African Americans in Maryland,” according to the site.

You can also explore the museum’s permanent collection of art, textiles, material culture, photographs, rare books and other items. Discover what the African American military experience was like or listen to some early American jazz recordings, or learn about Maryland community history.

The museum also features guided tours. Admission is free for children under 6 and $8 for general admission.

The Reginald F. Lewis Museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10am to 5pm, Sunday 12pm to 5pm, and on third Thursdays from 5pm to 8pm.

8. Museum of the African Diaspora (San Francisco, CA)

The Museum of the African Diaspora showcases artifacts that highlight the art, history and cultural richness of the African Diaspora. The goal of the museum is to “explore and celebrate the beliefs, practices, traditions, and customs connected to these movements,” according to the website.

The MoAD features slave narratives of slaves from all around the world, such as Cuba and London. For those in the area, consider sending your children to one of the programs available.

They have public, school and family programs as well as resource guides for educators. Visit Wednesdays through Saturday from 11am to 6pm and on Sundays from 12pm to 5pm.

Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for seniors, students and educators, and free for children 12 and under.

9. Museum of African American History (Boston and Nantucket, MA)

The Museum of African American History (MAAH) tells a story many may not know. New Guinea is the section of Nantucket where African Americans lived in the 18th and 19th centuries. Take a guided tour leaving from the Whaling Museum and ending at the African Meeting House.

The museum is dedicated “to preserving, conserving and accurately interpreting the contributions of African Americans in New England from the colonial period through the 19th century.” At this museum, you can learn all about when the first slave ships arrived on Nantucket in the 1600s and the abolition of slavery on Nantucket in 1773.

One exhibit you should try to see is the Frederick Douglass: The Mot Photographed American of the 19th Century exhibit (through December 2017). The Nantucket location is open from Tuesday through Sunday from 11am to 4pm between October and December and in the winter (January to May) Fridays through Sunday, same hours.

From June through September the hours change, check the site for details. Admission is $10 and $8 for children 13-17. Children under 12 are free.

10. Du Sable Museum of African American History (Chicago, IL)

The Du Sable Museum of African American History is one of the top museums dedicated to the art, history and cultural contributions of African Americans.

The museum aims to “promote understanding and inspire appreciation of the achievements, contributions and experiences of African Americans through exhibits, programs and activities that illustrate African and African American history, art and culture,” according to the Du Sable website.

A Smithsonian affiliate, the Du Sable Museum’s exhibits include a history of African Americans in the Armed Services, during Reconstruction, the Great Migration, and the Jim Crow Era. They also delve into The Transatlantic Slave Trade, the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movement of the 60s and 70s.

You won’t be disappointed to discover this gem of a museum in Chicago’s Washington Park. Adults pay $10, children pay $3, and student pay $7. Chicago residents receive a discount, and children under 5 are free. Tuesdays are free.

You can plan to visit Tuesday through Saturday between 10am and 5pm or go on Sunday between noon and 5pm.

Which museums are you excited about visiting? Let me know in the comments.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Shanea Patterson

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