Experience African American History in Baltimore
Visit the museums and learn about the people who keep Baltimore's African American history and heritage alive.
Baltimore has a proud African American history. Learn about the legends that once called Baltimore home, get to know today’s trendsetters and tastemakers, and trace our history at the museums dedicated to telling the African American story.
Brush Up on History
Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park Museum
A rich, interactive experience for families and history lovers of all ages, this national heritage site recounts the story of Frederick Douglass and his life as a young man in the shipyards in Baltimore and the Eastern Shore. The Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers museum also celebrates the legacy of Isaac Myers, and the founding of the Chesapeake Marine Railway and Dry Dock Company, America’s first African American-owned shipyard.
B&O Railroad Museum
Discover the role the physical railroad played in the Underground Railroad network at the B&O Railroad Museum, which was declared an official Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Site by the National Park Service in 2021. The museum’s Mt. Clare Station aided at least eight Freedom Seekers in their journey, including Henry “Box” Brown and William and Ellen Craft. A 180-degree multimedia experience and accompanying recording of Henry “Box” Brown’s own song produced in collaboration with the Howard University Department of Music invites visitors to step into the footsteps of those brave travelers who relied on the B&O to carry them to freedom.
James E. Lewis Museum of Art
Situated on the campus of Morgan State University, the largest of Maryland’s Historically Black Colleges & Universities, the James E. Lewis Museum of Art houses an impressive collection of African American Art. Exhibitions have included works by African American quilters of Baltimore, abstract painter Alma Roberts, sculptor Chakaia Booker and artist Elizabeth Catlett, who concentrated on the Black female experience.
Lillie Carroll Jackson Civil Rights Museum
Dr. Lillie Carroll Jackson was a former Baltimore Chapter NAACP president and civil rights activist. Upon her death she bequeathed her four-story row home in Bolton Hill, where civil rights campaigns were often organized, as a museum about the battle against racial prejudice. Today the Lillie Carroll Jackson Civil Rights Museum houses six galleries filled with drawings, paintings, letters, photographs and historic documents related to the Civil Rights Movement.
Maryland Center for History and Culture
The Maryland Center for History and Culture contains more than 350,000 objects and seven million books and documents, including exhibits that tell the story of African American life in Baltimore. Among those are more than 7,000 photographs taken by Paul Henderson, a photojournalist who worked for the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper from 1929 to 1965. The Center also houses archival collections from now-defunct historical venues, such as portraits by artist Joshua Johnson that once hung in The Peale Museum.
National Great Blacks In Wax Museum
In 1983, Drs. Elmer and Joanne Martin founded the National Great Blacks In Wax Museum in downtown Baltimore with four wax figures. Today, the museum’s 10,000-square-foot facilities features more than 100 life-like figures of civil rights leaders, cultural icons and scenes from history like the full-scale model of a slave ship.
Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture
Touted as the “authentic voice of African American history and culture,” this Smithsonian affiliate features over 13,000 square feet of permanent and temporary exhibition space holding about 10,000 objects. Past exhibitions at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum have included works by Jacob Lawrence, an installation on Black superheroes and a presentation on the depiction of African American women. The Lewis Museum also hosts discussions, film screenings and living history performances.
Sankofa Children's Museum
Sankofa Children’s Museum is the only children’s museum in America designed to introduce school-aged children to the traditions and cultural practices of Africa’s 54 nations. Ancient artifacts on display include beaded crowns, wooden carvings and dance masks.
Meet Our Famous Figures
Born into slavery in 1818, Frederick Douglass came to the Fell’s Point neighborhood in Baltimore as a child, where his master’s wife taught him to read. He escaped slavery and became an abolitionist, eventually serving as an adviser to President Lincoln and becoming the highest ranked Black official during the reconstruction. Just three years before his death, Douglass returned to Baltimore as a prosperous man and built five houses on Strawberry Alley that he named Douglass Place (today known as Dallas Street). You can learn more about his life and legacy at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park Museum.
Jazz singer Billie Holiday spent her early years in Baltimore and regularly returned to perform at legendary venues like the Royal Theatre, which was one of the top spots for Black entertainment in the U.S. A bronze statue, complete with her signature gardenia, stands more than eight feet tall on Pennsylvania Avenue in West Baltimore. Murals and portraits of Holiday can be found throughout her childhood neighborhood of Upper Fell’s Point and at Pennsylvania and North Avenues.
Born in Baltimore in 1908, Thurgood Marshall was a civil rights attorney and in 1967 became the first African American Supreme Court Justice. He played an integral role in the civil rights movement, representing Linda Brown in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case before the Supreme Court. A statue honors the Baltimore native and great American lawyer at the U.S. Courthouse downtown on Pratt Street, and a marker at 1632 Division Street marks the site of the house where he grew up.
Elijah E. Cummings served in the United States House of Representatives for Maryland’s 7th Congressional district for 23 years. He became an advocate for civil rights at age 11, in 1962, when he helped integrate a swimming pool. Cummings, who died in October 2019, was best known as a powerful orator and advocate for the poor. Speaking at his funeral, President Obama said, “his life validates the things we tell ourselves about what is possible in this country.” In 2021, the Baltimore Museum of Art unveiled the official portrait of the congressman, which was painted by local artist Jerrell Gibbs and is permanently on display in the United States Capitol.