What I Learned About Black History at the Northwest African American Museum Tali Love February 12, 2018 Black History Month, Personal Travel Essays 2 Comments This post was most recently updated on February 22nd, 2018When you think of Black History in America, there are a few things that come to mind. I’m willing to bet that nine times out of ten the Northwest region of the United States is NOT one of those things. Fully aware that African American leaders and influencers in this part of the US were grossly overlooked and at risk of being forgotten, a Seattle-based multi-racial coalition called Community Exchange began drafting plans for an African American museum. They wanted to build a structure that would tell the amazing stories of the many men and women that had done so much to make American society what it is today. After several years of attempting to source and acquire the ideal location, in 1993, a non-profit organization called African American Heritage Museum and Cultural Center was formed. With much effort, passion and collaboration, several years later, in the Spring of 2006 the developers officially broke ground. The Northwest African American Museum opened its doors in March 2008 (Source: Wikipedia). As an African American woman with southern roots, I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived at the Northwest African American Museum. I pulled up to the building that was once Coleman Elementary School, built in 1909. The first thing I noticed was a big purple guitar out in its front yard. While this fun piece of art made for a great photo prop, I was pleased to see that it was dedicated to an African American who had contributed immensely to the world of music. The beautiful green lawn in front of the museum is called Jimi Hendrix Park — a tribute to the guitar god and Seattle native who is arguably one of the greatest guitar players of all time. As I entered, I was greeted by a smiling and very enthusiastic staff that was ready and willing to answer any questions that I had. I ended up spending quite a bit of time with Volunteer Coordinator Stacie Ford Bonnelle, who walked me through the museum and gave me some great insight into some of the exhibits. We started off at the gift shop, which offered a unique collection of African inspired gifts, books, posters, jewelry, and more. As we moved along the rest of the museum, I quickly gathered that, while this very intimate space was a hub that housed a great deal of intriguing history, it was also boldly speaking about the advancement of African Americans all over the nation at this very time. Just a glance at the event calendar in my hand showed me how much was going on at the museum right now — how alive and active it was. There were lectures, mixers, workshops, yoga classes set to trap music (yes, trap music!) and much more. I suddenly shifted my perspective from history and began to get excited about the here and now in the vibrant city of Seattle. I also realized within my first twenty minutes of being there that Seattle is full of movers and shakers, especially African American Seattleites, who have no plans of slowing down when it comes to being positive contributors to their communities and their city. My thoughts were instantly confirmed as I was taken to a room that housed an exhibition called Everyday Black. This exhibition featured contemporary portraits by photographers Jessica Rycheal and Zorn B. Taylor. I felt completely aligned as Stacie explained that the beautiful display of portraits was a representation of the everyday lives of black folks in Seattle. Seeing the images and hearing the stories about the people who looked so confident and comfortable clothed in all of their blackness, made me feel both a sense of pride and obligation. I thought to myself that I always want to carry myself in a way that I might be deemed worthy of being a portrait on such a wall. Stacie also shared with me that, often times, the Northwest’s amazing natural beauty was the main talking point for visitors, overshadowing the important pioneers and rebels that contributed to its unique spirit. Seeing the images and hearing the stories about the people who looked so confident and comfortable clothed in all of their blackness, made me feel both a sense of pride and obligation. I thought to myself that I always want to carry myself in a way that I might be deemed worthy of being a portrait on such a wall. I learned that the African Americans of the Northwest, even though they faced the cruel stranglehold of racial inequality much like their brothers and sisters in the Deep South, had successfully risen above adversity. I was enlightened about certain people like Jimmy Claxton — the first black man to play organized baseball on a white team in Tacoma, WA. There was also George Washington who founded the town of Centralia and will always be recognized and honored as the leading African American pioneer of the Pacific Northwest. I was even surprised to find out that Ray Charles launched his successful singing career in Seattle. Even former President Barack Obama’s mother was a Seattle native. From discussions about Martin Luther King’s single visit to the city to admiring the quotes, newspaper articles, and images that covered the walls. I enjoyed every minute of my experience at the Northwest African American History Museum. I was happy to see that black history was so vociferously celebrated by the people and stories on its walls, but I was even more pleased that this part of the US, which is not usually the focus of a lot of the African American saga, was finally getting its due. Here, the history of Northwest African Americans has not been forgotten. Not only that, but you also get a sense of this surging energy, an undeniable pulse, that this very history is writing itself a new chapter in its progression — one of hope and promise for the present and the future. How are you celebrating Black History Month this year? Share your experiences with us in the comments.