On June 19, 1865, the last enslaved African-Americans in Texas learned they were free, months after the official end of the Civil War. More than a century later, in 2021, Juneteeth was declared a federal US holiday. This recognition of Juneteeth’s significance sparked conversations around the country’s nebulous history and brought forth many enriching opportunities to broaden cross-cultural understandings. While you can work to honor Black heritage year-round by celebrating Black beauty or supporting Black leadership, educating yourself on Black culture is a surefire way to do your part.
One way to get started is by making a trip to a local Black history museum, so we’ve curated a list of must-visit spots across the United States. Read on to discover the museums to add to your list ASAP.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture (NMAAHC) is one of the newest additions to the D.C. area. Opened to the public on September 24, 2016, NMAAHC is the only national museum devoted exclusively to documenting African American history and culture. From remnants of slave ships to a thorough look at Beyoncé’s, NMAAHC houses the past, present, and future of Black experiences. Of course, Black history isn’t only inside the museum: the stunning building is hard to miss on the National Mall, courtesy of lead designer David Adjaye and lead architects Philip Freelon and J. Max Bond, Jr. Wrapped in ornamental bronze-colored metal lattice to pay homage to the ironwork of enslaved African Americans in the south, NMAAHC’s building is a work of art and history in and of itself.
Right in the heart of Texas, you’ll find Art Galleries at Black Studies (AGBS). The gallery located on the Austin campus of the University of Texas boasts a global collection of works from Black artists around the world. AGBS creates fun, accessible programming to inspire creativity among youth, including art initiatives and tours of exclusive archives. The contemporary gallery hosts a number of events and spaces for engaging in social justice, advocacy, and reflections to encourage culturally competent discussions that foster change.
Planning on visiting sunny Los Angeles? Be sure to check out the California African American Museum (CAAM). Founded in 1977, CAAM was the first museum centering African American culture to be supported by a state. Located in Exposition Park, the mecca of museums in Los Angeles, CAAM focuses on curating collections of African-American history, culture, and arts from artists around California and the Western United States. Added bonus — admission is free and they have guided tours to guarantee you’ll have a solid introduction to all the CAAM has to offer.
Another Texas gem is the George Washington Carver Museum, Cultural and Genealogy Center — or the Carver to locals. Named after the notable Black scientist and inventor, George Washington Carver, the cultural center is found in a residential area in East Austin. When the Carver first appeared on the map in 1926, it was Austin’s first library. A few petitions and restorations later, the George Washington Carver Museum, Cultural and Genealogy Center became the first African-American neighborhood museum in all of Texas in 1980. Today, the center continues to celebrate Blackness and locals, making it a timeless community favorite to add to your museum list.
As one of the world’s oldest independent African-American museums, the Charles Wright Museum of African American History comes highly recommended all the way from Detroit. What started out as a vision and dream for Dr. Charles H. Wright, a Detroit-based obstetrician and gynecologist, has turned into the famous 125,000 square-foot cultural beacon known today. Dr. Wright owned the first installment of the Charles Wright Museum back in 1966, which was named the International Afro-American Museum. Since then, the Wright now holds the largest permanent collection of African-American culture and runs over 150 “learning and engagement programs.”
With 60 years and counting under its belt, the DuSable Museum of African American History is the oldest independently owned museum. After opening its doors in 1961, DuSable — originally named the Ebony Museum of Negro History and Art — answered the call for Black cultural resources in Chicago. DuSable’s presence was meant to counter the presumed omission of Black culture from other educational institutions. Husband and wife team Dr. Margaret Taylor-Burroughs and Charles Burroughs, opened the museum in their home, establishing the foundation for the Black culture hub the DuSable is today. With over 15,000 pieces of historical memorabilia and free admission on Wednesdays, DuSable only adds to Chicago’s cultural charm.
Just a few blocks away from the Liberty Bell, you’ll find the African American Museum in Philadelphia (AAMP). AAMP is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution and the first museum centering American American heritage to be funded and built by a major city in 1976. AAMP houses four galleries and hosts events and exhibits that amplify Black voices. The exhibitions and collections curated by AAMP display Black culture in family life, during the Civil Rights movement, and in various industries like arts, sports, medicine, and more.
Did your go-museum make the list? How do you celebrate Juneteenth? Let us know in the comments!