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From Storefront to Monument

Tracing the Public History of the Black Museum Movement

Andrea A. Burns

Publication Year: 2013

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 Afro-American 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.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press

Series: Public History in Historical Perspective


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pp. C-C

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

The tentative idea for this book began with an impromptu conversation I had with Keith Mayes while standing in line for coffee (of course) at the University of Minnesota. As a graduate student, I was deeply interested in how people created, and interacted with, physical representations of their past, but I never thought that the result of our conversation would bring me here. For...

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Introduction- Museums on the Front Lines: Confronting the “Conspiracy of Silence”

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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...

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1. When “Civil Rights are not Enough”: Building the Black Museum Movement

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pp. 15-40

In a 2007 interview with The 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...

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2. “Not in My Backyard”: The Contested Origins of the African American Museum of Philadelphia

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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...

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3. Confronting the “Tyranny of Relevance”: Exhibits and the Politics of Representation

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pp. 72-105

In a 1973 Washington Sunday Star article 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:...

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4. “To Satisfy a Deadline but Little Else”: The Public Debut of the African American Museum of Philadelphia

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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...

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5. Rocky Transitions: Black Museums Approach a New Era

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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...

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6. A Museum for the Future: The National Museum of African American History and Culture

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pp. 156-178

In 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...

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Conclusion- The Ties that Bind: Museums as Community Agents

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pp. 179-188

In the 1972 issue of Museum 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...


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pp. 189-236


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pp. 237-251

Back Cover

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pp. BC-BC

E-ISBN-13: 9781613762783
E-ISBN-10: 161376278X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781625340344
Print-ISBN-10: 1625340346

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 10 illus.
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Public History in Historical Perspective
Series Editor Byline: Marla Miller See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 872122303
MUSE Marc Record: Download for From Storefront to Monument

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Public history -- United States -- History.
  • Historical museums -- United States -- History.
  • African Americans -- Museums -- History.
  • African Americans -- History.
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