Studying Art, History, and Culture: African-American Museums in the US

December 14, 2012  |  

Across the country, there are many museums promoting, preserving, and honoring the history and culture of African-Americans. With a focus on art, music, technology, history, and even firefighters, here are ten amazing places to check out if you want a little more culture in your life.

African-American Museum in Dallas

African-American Museum, Dallas, TX
As one of the only museums of its kind in the Southwestern United States, the African-American Museum in Dallas was founded in 1974 at Bishop College, a HBCU that closed in 1988. It ran independently starting in 1979, constructed a new facility that opened in, and houses one of the largest African-American Folk Art collections in the US.

National Museum of African-American Music

The National Museum of African-American Music, Nashville, TN
African-Americans have influenced art and culture in the US, and that definitely means music as well. The National Museum of African-American Music is located, naturally, in Nashville, and, though it originally focused on Nashville and the local area, it is now expanded to a national museum. It highlights the 48 music genres impacted by African-Americans and honors the legacy of musicians and celebrates continued contributions to the field.

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Birmingham, AL
While it is important to celebrate the achievements of African-Americans in the arts, remembering the rich history of this community is also important. In Birmingham, AL, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is “chronicling the past to inspire the future.” The museum takes on the difficult challenge of portraying the harsh truth of history, while being sensitive and non-divisive. One of its current special exhibitions is “Black from the Heart of Dixie: Famous African American Alabamians.”

Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture, Washington D.C.
Currently housed on the second floor of the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of African-American History and Culture is currently constructing a new building, with an expected opening in 2015. A national museum located in Washington DC, has been a dream of many African Americans, and one that is finally coming true. Field trip to DC in 2015!

African-American Firefighters Museum

The African-American Firefighters Museum, Los Angeles, CA
Founded in 1997, the African-American Firefighters Museum honors the bravery and honor of firefighters from across the country. It is the only museum of its kind in the US and houses vintage fire apparatus, stories and pictures of African-American firefighters from Los Angeles, and a memorial tribute to the lives lost on 9/11. Volunteer-run and donation-driven, the African-American Firefighters Museum also has 92-year-old retired firefighter Arnett Hartsfield as the museum’s historian.

August Wilson performing "How I Learned What I Learned" in 2004. AP Photo/E Pablo Kosmicki, File

August Wilson performing “How I Learned What I Learned” in 2004. AP Photo/E Pablo Kosmicki, File

August Wilson Center for African American Culture, Pittsburgh, PA
Tony Award-winning playwright August Wilson is the inspiration for this museum in Pittsburgh, the writer’s hometown. The institution works to preserve, present, interpret, celebrate, and shape African-American art, culture, and history in the US and Western Pennsylvania. It boasts a theater and offers lectures, community events, and education programs.

A Madame CJ Walker ointment tin. Via the Institute's Facebook page

A Madame CJ Walker ointment tin. Via the Institute’s Facebook page

Institute of Black Invention & Technology, Inc., Amherst, MA
The Institute of Black Invention and Technology may be based in Amherst, MA, but it is a traveling museum that works to inspire young people to look into careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). By partnering with colleges, public school systems, libraries, community centers and African-American fraternities and sororities, the Institute highlights the inventions and innovations from the history of African-Americans to today.

The First Lady with chief curator Thelma Golden at the museum. Rex Features via AP Images

The First Lady with chief curator Thelma Golden at the museum. Rex Features via AP Images

The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY
Working to promote the works of artists of African descent, the Studio Museum in Harlem hosts lectures, performances, and on- and off-site interpretive programs for the public in New York. Its Artist-in-Residence program has worked with more than 100 artists, including Chakaia Booker, David Hammons, Wangechi Mutu, Mickalene Thomas, and Kehinde Wiley.

River Road African American Museum

River Road African American Museum, Donaldsonville , LA
Kathe Hambrick founded the River Road African American Museum in the historic district in Donaldsonville, LA in 1994, as a way to share the contributions of African Americans who lived and worked on the plantations along the Mississippi River. Its exhibits include “African Influences on Louisiana Cuisine,” “Rural Roots of Jazz,” “Black Doctors of River Road,” and more.

Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts and Cultur
Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture, Charlotte, NC
Going beyond arts, the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts and Culture in Charlotte, NC also works to showcase excellence in art, but also dives into the history and culture of African-Americans and those of African descent. Starting as the Afro-American Cultural and Service Center (AACSC) at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, the center was named for Charlotte community leader and businessman Harvey B. Gantt in 2009. The photo above is from one of its permanent collections: John & Vivian Hewitt Collection of African-American Art.

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