Almost a hundred years since the first weeklong celebration of Black history, a museum in Tyler is offering a chance for the community to come in and experience the history and culture of Black people in America.
The Texas African American Museum, located in downtown Tyler, is a small but full museum whose mission is, “to explore, expand, preserve, and educate those who are interested in our history, culture and contributions to our society, through photographs, artifacts, and likeness,” according to their website.
The museum features several rooms, such as the “Empowerment Room,” which showcases a collection of figurines donated to the museum by Lana Klug called “All of God’s children,” a sports section featuring a signed jersey of Patrick Mahomes and displays of their Notable African American Awards.
“Every year we do a notable African American men, women and youth display,” Executive Director Gloria Mays Washington said.
Nominees are taken year-round, and once someone is nominated, they must fill out a form before the winners are chosen. According to Washington, this award is open to anyone who is nominated, and nomination forms are available on their website.
Another room that shows local history is the Genesis Room. That room shows off collections donated to the museum, such as a jazz figurine collection, as well as a baby grand piano played by music composer W.C. Handy.
“This baby grand piano was played by the [father] of the
blues Mr. W.C. Handy, and every time he would come to Tyler, that’s his piano here,” Washington said.
The Genesis Room also shows off a rotating display of celebrants. Currently, the display is of the father of peanut butter, George Washington Carver.
“January the 27th marked 100 years since George Washington Carver was in this area,” Washington said. “We wanted to recognize him. He had such influence with the sweet potato and with the peanuts so we gave honor to him.”
For a more broad history and to experience some African American culture, museum goers need look no further than TAAM’s Jubilee Room. The largest room of date, the Jubilee Room shows off Civil Rights activists such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Rosa Parks. The room also has a conference table and book shelves set up to make the space a place where the community can come together.
“This is considered our library and conference room. We have the books where someone can come in sit down pull out a book and read or someone can bring their own book come in sit down and read, and sometimes we have conferences back here,” Washington explained.
This room also has displays of older technology such as a meal and flour sifter, a handheld mixer, and an iron that got warm by being placed in the fire before pressing clothes.
Next to the technology display, right in the middle of the room, is an African culture display. The display shows off facemasks, hand-carved animals and drums made of alligator skin from Africa.
“We’ve come a mighty mighty mighty long way,” Washington said.
The Jubilee Room, much like the name suggests, is meant to commemorate and celebrate the path blazed by the first African Americans and their descendants.
Here, TAAM shows off their success with pictures of famous Black people in history like the actor Dooley Wilson who played in “Casablanca,” or gospel singer Willie Neal Johnson, but also serves as a reminder of all parts of history, with a white Klu Klux Klansman uniform also on display.
“That’s unfortunately part of history, as well,” Washington said.
While TAAM has only been in their building for three years, they are already planning on expanding into some of their unused rooms once they can collect enough artifacts.
Washington urged the public to get involved in the events TAAM is having by liking them on Facebook, coming to the museum, donating collections and signing up to volunteer.
“We are seeking volunteers, and we are always fundraising,” Washington said.
To get involved, stop by the museum at 309 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, or go to their website at texasafricanamericanmuseum.org.
The museum is currently open 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Thursday and Fridays, and 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. on Saturdays.