My Visit to America's Black Holocaust Museum
Updated: Feb 28, 2022
The Grand Re-opening of ABHM is an event of unprecedented importance, and an event unique to the city of Milwaukee.
On the morning of Friday, February 25, I woke up 30 minutes earlier than usual. America's Black Holocaust Museum was re-opening– an event of unprecedented importance, and an event unique to the city of Milwaukee. It didn’t help that I checked my email after I got ready; one of the emails I received was an unfortunate disappointment. I got an email reading that the field trip to the Black Holocaust Museum was canceled for University of Wisconsin Milwaukee at Waukesha, due to the poor road conditions with the recent snowfall. My initial reaction was laid out as I stared at my phone for a moment. I was not shocked, but I was disappointed to see some snow defer my school from an event like this. I did not let that disappointment get into my head, as I went to the Black Holocaust Museum grand reopening anyway.
I remember reading about the Black Holocaust Museum and its origins within the city of Milwaukee and the Brownsville neighborhood. Dr. James Cameron founded the Black Holocaust Museum in 1988; he is famous for being the only known survivor of a lynching attack in United States history. The museum had recently closed, the physical embodiment, at least. The museum was strictly virtual for a long period of time up until this very day, even before being ‘virtual,’ in a sense, was cool. Although I thought I understood the importance and the impact that this museum reopened would have on not only the city of Milwaukee, but on the nation's collective understanding of what black history is, I would realize that I would not truly understand this impact until I arrived at the grand opening ceremony.
The ceremony was held in a tent covering a block of Vel R Phillips Avenue; the museum is located at the corner of Vel R and North Avenue. I was not sure how many people to expect; I was not sure how many people would show up with the cold weather in the air and on the street, but my doubts were soon terminated by the turn out present within the tent– outside of it as well. The event's gravity and impact cannot be understated.
I saw a community and a creed reunited and uplifted with this event occurring. Throughout the opening ceremony, many important voices and faces spoke, such as governor Tony Evers, Congressional District Representative Gwen Moore, Senator Tammy Baldwin as well as the museum‘s director Bert Davis and with James Cameron‘s son Virgil. The collective atmosphere underneath this heated tent was an atmosphere of gratitude and one of appreciation, as well as one of drive and focus. It was recognized that the reopening of Americas Black Holocaust Museum was an extremely important step forward to making black history something familiar and recognizable, but it was also simultaneously understood that there was much more work to be done in order to make this dream ultimately fully realized. A spoken word artist presented an anthem of inspiration and hope regarding the reopening and from that point on it was known just how great the impact of this museum was. It was finally understood just how significant the drive and the courage of Dr. James Cameron was. It was understood just how great the impact of this museum will be for future visitors and future generations alike from residents of Milwaukee and residents of the country alike.
Virgil Cameron speaking at the opening ceremony.
The ceremony ended with a ribbon-cutting at around the 10 o’clock mark and the collective body that attended the ceremony then proceeded to enter the museum, myself included. The museum space is brand-new and is chock-full of new, colorful, engaging informative displays of what America’s black history really is. The museum is a modest 5000 ft.² but within each square foot of that space is a valuable piece of Black history.
The museum's initial exhibit begins with the origin of the human race, which began in Africa. The museum emphasizes the truth: Black History began before the entrance of African-Americans to the American continents with the Atlantic slave trade. It began before slavery was finally ended during the Civil War. Black history began with human history; that is the ultimate message that this museum is so wonderfully portraying. The museum exhibit continues with the introduction of slavery, the ending of slavery and the introduction of the many laws, clauses and ideas designed to prevent blacks from being equal at any cost.
A particular example of such laws-- many markets did not allow black shoppers in, many hotels did not allow black guests. The Green book was created as a guide allowing blacks to easily find venues that supported their race.
A lot of the particular details within the ABHM are directly associated with Milwaukee’s history; Milwaukee has had a African-American population essentially its entire lifespan and such a population has only continued to grow. As the exhibit continues into the middle of the 20th century, modern black greatness is fully exemplified through musicians and artists, from jazz to hip-hop, as well as athletes from basketball to football, from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Colin Kaepernick. Despite the small space that is currently the museum, the exhibit and the displays are so in-depth, dense and impactful that time passes on much faster than realized. You can easily spend 2 to 3 hours in this museum, or more, merely comprehending the information and absorbing the profound tragedies that have been laid across this population.
The vision that Dr. James Cameron had for such a museum has finally been realized. Is the unique collection and display of a topic that is slowly becoming more familiar as time passes on. It is a symbolic reflection of the growth that the future generations have endured, and is also an encompassing of the continued growth that the generations coming after us must endure. America’s Black Holocaust Museum gives off the notion that America has done a lot, but also understands that our nation needs to do much much more regarding the embracing and understanding of what black history really is. Black History is not nearly a month of devotion and acknowledgment, but it is a topic that must be discussed and taught throughout the entirety of every year.