Experience African American History in Baltimore
Visit the museums and learn about the people who keep Baltimore's African American history and heritage alive.
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 Meyers 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 Historical Society
Maryland Historical Society 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 Historical Society 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 Malcolm X, Sojourner Truth, Langston Hughes and scenes like 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 objects such as an original, autographed photograph of Frederick Douglass and a first edition of his autobiography. 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 also hosts discussions and film screenings and living history performances.
Sankofa Children's Museum
Sankofa Children’s Museum is a museum designed to introduce school-aged children to the traditions of Africa’s 54 nations, where many of their ancestors once lived. Ancient artifacts on display include bronze sculptures, fang masks and hunting tunics.
Meet Our Famous Figures
Born into slavery in 1818, Frederick Douglass came to the Fell’s Point neighborhood in Baltimore as a child, where he was taught to read by his master’s wife. 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 Baltimore’s native son 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.”
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.”
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 public policy interest 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.
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 and Coppin State.
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.
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.
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.