Home Museum institution The Need for Black Museums –

The Need for Black Museums –

The Woodson African American Museum of Florida presents the historic voice of this St. Petersburg community from the perspective of local, regional, and national history, culture, and community. It demonstrates the commitment to revitalizing the Midtown St. Petersburg neighborhood.

BY DR. NASHID MADYUN, Florida Humanities Executive Director

Greetings, I’m new in St. Petersburg. I really love its vibrant cultural diversity, the incredible wealth of talent in music, cuisine, and open conversations across all sectors of this community. It seems like everyone contributes in some way to this scene. I asked myself, how could I?

I was a museum director for a few decades and fell in love with what a community museum is and could be. Like many African Americans in the Mid-South, I was not introduced to the value of museums early on, but the journey to appreciation has been a welcome wake-up call. I believe this is an area I can contribute to, a journey into the value of preserving black culture.

I was recently asked, “Why should we go to museums?” The answer to this question is best offered after a few points of clarification.

The DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center | Photo courtesy of TonyTheTiger at English Wikipedia

Who is the “we” in this question? What kind or type of museum are we talking about? To help our communities prosper socially and economically, we must strive to know our neighbors. Museums provide an opportunity to learn about the challenges and triumphs of a segment of our society. In this sense, we should all go to museums; there are many in our community.

Most museums and cultural institutions operate through a mission, statement of purpose, or direction. These statements are often succinct and clear paths or definitions that present why the museum exists.

Programs and exhibits are unlikely to address all aspects of society. It’s too expensive to maintain and would require blocks and blocks of space and energy. I’m sure you’ve heard of the phrase “you can’t be everything to everyone”.

Therefore, we have a Holocaust Museum, the James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art, fine art museums, galleries, the Woodson African American Museum of Florida and many more as we open our lens on the Tampa Bay area and Florida. Each museum is thoughtful in what it presents and how it cares for its treasures.

The Museum of the Reconstruction Era | Photo courtesy of Dr Blazer – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

The black museum has had its share of challenges. The existence of an independent black museum is relatively new in America. The logic of knowing your neighbor to strengthen society implies that we know ourselves. As such, we should at least know the complicated history of the black museum.

The first black museum, Hampton University Museum and Archives, in Hampton, Virginia, founded in 1868, was primarily established to collect and display African-American art. The first black museum not attached to an institution, DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center in Chicagoopened in 1961.

This is a gap of almost 100 years and reflects the sinkhole of black identity movements such as Reconstruction (rise of black politics), Harlem Renaissance (art, literature and music) of the 1920s, Renaissance of Chicago (art and music) of the 1930s and the age of Jim Crow and the civil rights movement. There were three waves of Ku Klux Klan oppression.

In fact, although there was a black arts movement in the 1960s, a conscientious black museum movement did not occur until the 1970s, a clear century of black heritage primarily attached to museums or universities. from the city. Focusing on the first period of significant black political activity, The museum of the time of the reconstruction is in the family home of our 28th President, Woodrow Wilson. The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia is located on the campus of Ferris University in Michigan.

Who is telling the story of the black experience?

Florida now has a slew of black heritage homes, museums, and cultural institutions that are stand-alone entities. The challenge is sponsorship. Before artifacts and works of art become exhibits, the objects must be preserved in secure and expensive preservation systems. Thinkers and curators plan and discuss for months how to organize and interpret these artifacts and paintings in a way we can appreciate.

Yet the COVID-19 era and general apathy have seen a steep decline in visits to black museums and institutions. If this trend continues, there will be a consequent decline in open black museums. Who then tells the story of the black experience? Who then opens their archives to collect priceless black memories to keep?

Not only do we need to visit black museums to help us understand our history and tell our neighbors, but our patronage can mean the difference between an institution open or closed in the times we live in now.

Dr. Nashid Madyun has served as executive director of Florida Humanities since May 2021, bringing two decades of experience as a historian, museum professional, and educator to the nation’s second-largest humanities council.

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