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From Storefront to Monument

From Storefront to Monument: Tracing the Public History of the Black Museum Movement

Andrea A. Burns
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 264
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vk1qr
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  • Book Info
    From Storefront to Monument
    Book Description:

    Today well over two hundred museums focusing on African American history and culture can be found throughout the United States and Canada. Many of these institutions trace their roots to the 1960s and 1970s, when the struggle for racial equality inspired a movement within the black community to make the history and culture of African America more “public.” This book tells the story of four of these groundbreaking museums: the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago (founded in 1961); the International AfroAmerican Museum in Detroit (1965); the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum in Washington, D.C. (1967); and the African American Museum of Philadelphia (1976). Andrea A. Burns shows how the founders of these institutions, many of whom had ties to the Black Power movement, sought to provide African Americans with a meaningful alternative to the misrepresentation or utter neglect of black history found in standard textbooks and most public history sites. Through the recovery and interpretation of artifacts, documents, and stories drawn from African American experience, they encouraged the embrace of a distinctly black identity and promoted new methods of interaction between the museum and the local community. Over time, the black museum movement induced mainstream institutions to integrate African American history and culture into their own exhibits and educational programs. This often controversial process has culminated in the creation of a National Museum of African American History and Culture, now scheduled to open in the nation’s capital in 2015.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-278-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction MUSEUMS ON THE FRONT LINES Confronting the “Conspiracy of Silence”
    (pp. 1-14)

    In November 1969, at the end of what had been a tumultuous decade across the United States, museum professionals and community activists gathered at the Bedford Lincoln Neighborhood Museum in Brooklyn, New York. Conference organizers intended to solicit discussion about how traditional museums could remain relevant in the context of recent social and political upheavals as well as explore the groundswell of interest regarding how, and whether, mainstream museums should open small branches in neighborhoods historically neglected by these institutions. Although the seminar’s leaders originally expected just twenty to thirty participants from the New York City area, they were startled...

  5. CHAPTER 1 WHEN “CIVIL RIGHTS ARE NOT ENOUGH” Building the Black Museum Movement
    (pp. 15-40)

    In a 2007 interview withThe Public Historian, African American scholar John Hope Franklin deemed the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago to be “one of the pioneer African American museums in the country.”¹ It is in the DuSable, which opened its doors in 1961 as the Ebony Museum of History and Art, that we may begin to identify the distinctive qualities that characterized many of the other African American museums established during the mid-late 1960s: the presentation of full-scale exhibits whose themes centered upon African and African American history and culture; the pursuit of a collections policy...

  6. CHAPTER 2 “NOT IN MY BACKYARD” The Contested Origins of the African American Museum of Philadelphia
    (pp. 41-71)

    Compared to the civil rights movement that swept through southern cities like Montgomery and Selma, the future home of the African American Museum of Philadelphia was not as renowned for its activism—despite the fact that the city witnessed a strong civil rights campaign during the 1940s and 1950s.¹ In 1951, for example, Philadelphia passed a groundbreaking charter that established, among other civil rights practices, a Commission on Human Relations that enforced the city’s antidiscrimination laws; city contracts and employment would henceforth be governed by these laws.² The commission’s members included both blacks and whites. Clarence Farmer, an African American...

  7. CHAPTER 3 CONFRONTING THE “TYRANNY OF RELEVANCE” Exhibits and the Politics of Representation
    (pp. 72-105)

    In a 1973Washington Sunday Stararticle titled “The Anacostia Tree: How a Neighborhood Museum Has Become a Source of Pride to ‘the other’ Washingtonians,” reporter Joan Kramer cited an exchange between Anacostia Neighborhood Museum assistant director Zora B. Martin and visiting African American schoolchildren:

    “Why did black people leave Africa?” asks Miss Martin. “Because they were afraid of the animals,” several children shout in unison. “No,” says Miss Martin. “Black people didn’t want to leave their homes. White people came to Africa, separated the families, and put them into boats. When black people were brought to America, they called...

  8. CHAPTER 4 “TO SATISFY A DEADLINE BUT LITTLE ELSE” The Public Debut of the African American Museum of Philadelphia
    (pp. 106-128)

    As the nation approached its Bicentennial year, the tentative efforts of mainstream museums to include multicultural perspectives, establish outreach programs, and build decentralized museums that targeted racially and ethnically diverse groups failed to alleviate the sense of exclusion that remained among nonwhite audiences. The protests surrounding exhibitions like the Whitney’s The 1930s: Painting and Sculpture in America (1968) demonstrate that the transformation of the mainstream museum world continued at a slow pace during the late 1960s and early 1970s, despite the efforts of activists who pressured tradition-bound institutions to revise their collections policies, dismantle their staid and stereotypical representations of...

  9. CHAPTER 5 ROCKY TRANSITIONS Black Museums Approach a New Era
    (pp. 129-155)

    By the mid-1980s, the small vanguard of African American museums that took root during the 1960s had grown into a network of more than one hundred African American museums across the country in locations as varied as the African American Museum in Dallas (founded in 1974) and the Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee (1988).¹ During the early 2000s, the number of African American museums surpassed two hundred. Like the pioneering black neighborhood museums based in metropolises like Chicago, Detroit, and Philadelphia, many of these institutions emerged in cities where African Americans wielded an increasing amount of political power; this power...

  10. CHAPTER 6 A MUSEUM FOR THE FUTURE The National Museum of African American History and Culture
    (pp. 156-178)

    I transforming the museum profession, black museum leaders embraced with creative verve the clarion call of activists such as June Jordan, Stokely Carmichael, and Malcolm X to bring the doctrines of the Black Power Movement—that is, black institutional capacity, self-sufficiency, and black pride—to museums and other sites of public history. Positioning black power as a subtext of the black museum movement reveals not only why, but how, these institutions challenged and reinterpreted the traditional model of museum as a repository for Eurocentric artifacts and narratives. African American neighborhood museum founders like John Kinard, Margaret Burroughs, and Charles Wright...

  11. CONCLUSION THE TIES THAT BIND Museums as Community Agents
    (pp. 179-188)

    In the 1972 issue ofMuseum News, Anacostia Neighborhood Museum founder John Kinard spoke plainly about what he believed to be the responsibility of the museum profession toward underserved audiences: “The day when established institutions can deny their responsibilities and cheat the masses is swiftly coming to an end. If museum people do not realize this, they only demonstrate their blindness and lack of concern for humanity.”¹ Three decades later, John Fleming, vice president of the Cincinnati Museum Center, expressed a similar sentiment, arguing that the crucial question museum administrators need to ask is “whether the museum is relevant to...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 189-236)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 237-251)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 252-252)