August 05, 2008

America's Black Holocaust Museum Should Not Close.

America's Black Holocaust Museum, located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has been hit by hard economic times along with the rest of America. It's disheartening when folks have to decide whether to spend their $4-$5 on a gallon of gas or a ticket to America's "never again" museum.

Founded by Dr. James Cameron, the museum houses artifacts that mark a critical period in America's history. Cameron passed away in 2006, but left his legacy, which grew out of his basement into the permanent location on North 4th Street. He also left a legacy in his life's work.

In August, 1930, when Cameron was 16 years old, he and two teenage friends were accused of the murder of a young white man in Marion, IN. As a result, Cameron and his two friends were brutally lynched by a mob of 15,000 at the Grant County Courthouse Square.

Cameron witnessed the deaths of his friends, but, miraculously, young Cameron survived his attempted lynching. Yet, because of the criminal charges against him, he was immediately sentenced and served time in a state prison before his parole four years later. Ironically, no one was ever accused, arrested or charged with the murders of Cameron’s teenage friends, nor for the beating Cameron suffered.

Because of his personal experience, Cameron has dedicated his life to promoting civil rights, racial unity and equality. His commitment is evidenced by his founding the first chapters of the NAACP in Indiana during the 1940s—a time in which the State of Indiana was notes as the Ku Klux Klan capital of America. Cameron went on to establish and become the first president of the NAACP Madison County Branch in Anderson, IN.

Additionally, Cameron also served as the Indiana State Director of Civil Liberties from 1942—1950. In this capacity, Cameron reported to then Governor of Indian Henry Shricker on violations of the “equal accommodations” laws to end previously mandated segregation. During his eight-year tenure, Cameron investigated over 25 incidents of civil rights infractions and faced many acts of violence and death threats for his work.

Displays in the Museum's permanent collection include:
The African Village:
This mural depicts life in a village on the coast of West Africa . Civilization, family and common customs are highlighted in this exhibit, giving visitors a view into the rarely shown images of a great culture and people.

The Middle Passage – A Voyage to Slavery:
This 15-foot reproduction of a slaveship details the largest forced migration in human history, from the vantage point of Africans enslaved in a cargo hold.

Wisconsin Legends of the NAACP:
This video and photo exhibition highlights the significant leaders and activities of the NAACP in Wisconsin . Images of Father Groppi, Vel Phillips, Gwen Moore and many others are depicted in Wisconsin ’s “march” towards racial equality and civil rights for the United States .

Strange Fruit - Lynching in America:
This exhibit allows visitors to examine the atrocities of lynching in America and the mentality that allowed lynching to occur.

The Life and Legacy of Dr. James Cameron:
Dr. Cameron, the only known survivor of a lynching, founded ABHM in 1988. This exhibit features several of Dr. Cameron’s life, including last summer’s “The Senate Apology” for failure to intact anti-lynching legislation decades ago.

Before Freedom Came:
This didactic panel exhibit depicts the lives of 18th and 19th century African Americans and documents how their experiences have shaped American history, culture and politics.
On July 29th, the Museum website announced it's economic difficulties:
The Board of Directors for America's Black Holocaust Museum announced today that the museum will temporarily close its doors in order to reconfigure its operations.

Reggie Jackson, Board Chair for America's Black Holocaust Museum (ABHM) said the institution has been impacted by the economy and part of the museum's reconfiguration will focus on developing a new fundraising plan. Jackson said ABHM does not have an endowment and relies strictly on individual donations and corporate philanthropy.

ABHM is in discussions with its lender and with the City of Milwaukee Department of City Development to retain the museum's building at its current location.

Jackson said that during its temporary closure, ABHM will restructure its educational development and complete the cataloguing of the museum's archives.

"Though we may be temporarily closed to the public, we will continue the museum's mission through aggressive outreach to the community to raise funds and ensure that this national museum remains open," said Jackson.

America's Black Holocaust Museum exists for the community, and we want you to continue investing in the organization.

As ABHM moves forward, we will keep the community updated and respond to inquiries about progress toward our joint goals of fundraising, board restructuring, and educational development.

Today an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reiterated the plight of the museum and gave an even less heartening glimpse at its future.

It would take about $125,000 to $175,000 a year to run the museum, which seems like a small price to get people of all races to rethink their assumptions about race.

America’s Black Holocaust Museum was a good place to talk about race, and it would be a shame for that forum to close because foundation support has waned in tough times. Race remains a hot-button issue in this community. Even with the doors to the museum closed, conversations about race must continue.

To donate to America’s Black Holocaust Museum, call (414) 217-9056.

Membership details are here.