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.
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.
Get to Know Our Rising Stars
Amy Sherald earned her renown when former First Lady Michelle Obama asked her to paint her portrait, which today hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. Through her portraiture, Sherald “explores the way people construct and perform their identities in response to political, social and cultural expectations,” according to the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
Al Rogers, Jr.
Al Rogers, Jr. is a Baltimore-born musician, stylist, creative director, curator and philanthropist. His music is influenced by the complexity of the city he grew up in and reflects a mix of genres that make his live shows an experience not to be missed. Al is also the founder of Swoozy Donation, a non-profit that provides clothing to local communities in need.
Best-selling author D. Watkins has taken his own rough beginning and used it to empower young people who come from neighborhoods like his own. He is the founder of the BMORE Writers Project, which is dedicated to helping underserved children reach their potential. In addition to writing for publications such as The New York Times, Rolling Stone and The Guardian, he lectures at the University of Baltimore.
Documentary photographer Devin Allen rose to fame capturing images of the people and the Baltimore streets where he grew up. A social justice advocate, teacher and photojournalist, Allen has used his experience to challenge conventional thinking about poverty and human potential.
Jacob Marley is a Baltimore-based visual artist and musician with an undeniable cool factor. His distinctive art focuses on representation and draws inspiration from high fashion while juxtaposing ancestral and cross-cultural imagery. In the local music scene, Marley is a producer, performer, DJ and the founder of Blush+Brews, a monthly Baltimore dance party.
Emerging author Kondwani Fidel is a poet, an activist and the voice of a new generation of Baltimore creatives. He is the author of several collections and essays, including “Hummingbirds in the Trenches,” his powerful memoir about growing up in Baltimore. Fidel continues to share his gifts through readings, speaking engagements and teaching. His poetry has been featured in The Washington Post, The Atlantic, CNN and in promotional marketing for Baltimore itself.
A Baltimore native, Lady Brion is a spoken word artist, activist, organizer, educator and poetry coach. She is also the cultural curator for Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, a Baltimore think tank advancing the public policy interests of Black people via political advocacy and youth leadership development. Under her given name, Brion Gill, she serves as Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Avenue Black Arts and Entertainment District.
Mecca Verdell, aka Meccamorphosis, is a Baltimore-based poet, performer, actress and teacher who first made a splash on the national stage after winning Brave New Voices, an international youth slam. Verdell dedicates her time and energy to providing safe spaces for youth; her creative expression and devotion to using her work to promote healing make her an incredible voice for women and for Baltimore. She published her first collection, “The Things I’ve Unlearned,” in 2022.
Schaun is an international photographer, filmmaker and instructor who specializes in natural light, portraiture, fine art and cultural documentary work. Using both analog and digital cameras, she creates intentionally cinematic and honest imagery. She has exhibited her work internationally through museums such as the James E. Lewis Museum of Art, the Baltimore Museum of Art, Antipode Gallery of Marseilles, Paris and private installations.
TT the Artist
Rap star and filmmaker TT the Artist came to Baltimore to attend MICA and stayed to create. She gained national attention when her original song was featured in a Super Bowl ad that featured a version of the “crazy legs” dance that Baltimore club music is known for.
Born and raised in Baltimore, Zadia records and performs with dozens of musicians and artists within the local creative community, so we knew she would be a natural collaborator for our first-ever Baltimore music video. Zadia’s lyrics and vocals combined to create a ballad that is soulful, memorable and real. Check out this interview for more on what inspires her. Listen to Zadia’s music on Spotify and visit her Instagram for info on upcoming live gigs.
Though young, John Tyler has already established himself as a big name in Baltimore’s music and arts scene. In addition to scoring productions for Under Armour, Bloomberg Philanthropies and Visit Baltimore, he founded Love Groove Music Festival to provide young artists with performance and networking opportunities.
Aaron Dante started his award-winning podcast, No Pix After Dark, in 2019 with the goal of uplifting communities and people often-overlooked or misrepresented by the mainstream media. He frequently features local business owners and city leaders on the show, and he has collaborated Guinness Open Gate Brewery, Full Tilt Brewing, Millennial Media and more. You can listen to No Pix After Dark on all major streaming platforms.