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Thu, 12.23.1965

The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History Opens

The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History

*The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History is celebrated on this date in 1965. It is also called 'The Wright,' a Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

Charles H. Wright, a Detroit-based obstetrician and gynecologist, felt inspired to create a repository for African American history after he visited a memorial to World War II heroes in Denmark. He would eventually create the International Afro-American Museum (I.A.M.). The I.A.M. was at 1549 West Grand Boulevard in a house owned by Dr. Wright. The I.A.M. featured galleries of African Art and instruments, a collection of inventions by African Americans, and an exhibition on Civil Rights activists.

Some exhibits included the inventions of Michigan native Elijah McCoy and masks from Nigeria and Ghana that Dr. Wright had acquired while visiting there. Wright also opened a traveling exhibit to tour the state. Founded in 1965 and opening in January 1966, The Wright Museum holds the world's largest permanent collection of African American culture. With more than 35,000 artifacts, The Wright's current 125,000-square-foot museum exhibits include Underground Railroad documents and letters from Malcolm X and Rosa Parks.

They also hosted memorial events for Parks and Aretha Franklin, who lay in state in the museum's rotunda in 2005 and 2018, respectively. The Wright Museum is a nonprofit institution with a dual mission, serving as both a museum of artifacts and a place of cultural retention and growth. It is the current home of The National Museum of the Tuskegee Airmen and produces the African World Festival. In 1978, the city of Detroit leased the museum a plot of land in Midtown near the Detroit Public Library, the Detroit Institute of Art, and the Detroit Science Center.

Groundbreaking for a new museum occurred on May 21, 1985. Two years later, the new 28,000-square-foot Museum of African American History opened at 301 Frederick Street. The museum outgrew its facility, and ground was broken for the third generation of the Museum in August 1993. In 1997, Detroit architects designed a new 125,000-square-foot facility on Warren Avenue, the museum's current location.

In 1999, Christy S. Coleman became president and C.E.O. of the museum, establishing a $12 million core exhibit. Collections and exhibits Home to the Blanche Coggin Underground Railroad Collection, the Harriet Tubman Museum Collection, and the Sheffield Collection (which details the labor movement in Detroit), The Wright houses more than 35,000 artifacts about the African American experience. Some permanent exhibits and displays include And Still, We Rise Our Journey through African American History and Culture Ring of Genealogy (Ford Freedom Rotunda Floor).

Under The Wright's dome is muralist Hubert Massey's 72-foot mural on the circular rotunda floor entitled "Genealogy." The Wright offers a range of public programs and educational opportunities for young audiences, including historical reenactments, interpretive tours of exhibitions, seminars, summer camps, workshops, and more.

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