It’s finally here! The BHM opens to the public on May 10th. And of course, we’ve been there already, no big deal.
Beginning May 10th, Richmonders will have access to the new, improved, relocated Black History Museum at 122 W. Leigh Street. Its old digs (at 00 Clay Street) have been the headquarters of the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia for 35 years, but the new space is bigger, more accessible, and, well, there’s the fact that it looks like a Super Mario Bros. brick castle, which I think we all can agree is pretty amazing.
The focus is on Virginia’s role in Black history–and oh my goodness, is that role troubled and turbulent. A large digital photo of some T-shirt wearing White kids protesting desegregation on Franklin in 1970 sure makes you realize how recent these struggles have been. And, of course, they’re not over.
A 13-plus foot Arthur Ashe stands in the corner of one of the galleries-there’s not a placard to say so, but his presence is a reminder of the fact that until 1996, we just had White guys on Monument Avenue (and not just any White guys, THE White guys). Twenty years later and we’ve now got a nicer Black History Museum plus some plans to put Maggie Walker on a pedestal (not without much protestation).
Anybody who thinks that’s adequate progress needs to be among the first in line when the museum’s doors open on May 5th. A 25-foot wall of interactive touchscreens will take you from B.C.E. to present day, with important events represented by circles (all low enough for younger visitors or those in wheelchairs). The blue circles are ones that involve Virginia, and they’re sobering as all get-out.
Visitors can take themselves through the other permanent exhibits around Emancipation, Reconstruction, Civil Rights, Jim Crow, and more. Upstairs, galleries are poised to show off the rotating and traveling exhibits–numero uno being Funky Turns 40 a celebration of Black character evolution within animated media. In September this will change to a Romare Bearden exhibition called “Vision to Activism.”
I wouldn’t truly recommend the museum for small children–there’s a “Children’s Zone” exhibit about Danville-native stock car racer Wendell Scott, and it looked pretty sweet, but other than that, it’d be hard to convince your six-year-old to hang out while you read aloud a ton of information to him or her. Teens, however, may possibly have a life-changing experience here. There’s a whole lot about how high school students and young people in general did a lot to change things (it ties in nicely with Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County), which should be a must-read for every Richmonder, Virginian, or American, really.
The original Richmond Woolworth Luncheonette sign (the one that hung proudly above its segregated lunch counters) hangs on the wall of the lobby, Henry “Box” Brown has his own exhibit in the elevator, and chalkboards around the space remind you that, in addition to being an armory, the building had been a school.
Stop by on Friday, May 6th for a special poetry event and live entertainment from 7:00 – 9:00 PM. Then Saturday, May 7th, come have fun with Culture Queen–I can personally vouch for how good she is at her job, which is to delight and educate children–from 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM.
Beginning May 10th, the operating hours will be 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM (closed Sundays and Mondays). Admission will be $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students with IDs, $6 for children (3-12), and free for kids under two. Or, you can buy a membership for $35 per year.
Take a sneak peek